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Save More Buildings

Chick-fil-A to preserve the tower and facade of Cumberland Presbyterian.

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Chick-fil-A billboards joke about saving cows by eating more chicken, but if all goes as planned, the Atlanta-based company will also save a historic building in Midtown.

Chick-fil-A bought the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Union Avenue for $1.3 million last week after a months-long battle by the Memphis Heritage Society to save the Gothic structure.

Though Chick-fil-A originally planned to raze the building, restaurant officials have worked out a deal with Memphis Heritage that will preserve the building's tower and part of its facade.

"The area near the tower and facade facing Union would be an outdoor eating area, and the building itself would be north of that. Parking would be around the side and to the back," said June West, director of the Memphis Heritage Society, who assisted the restaurant's architects with the new plan.

Chick-fil-A's vice president of real estate Erwin Reid said plans are not finalized, but the company's goal is to save the building's facade.

"We felt like it was the right thing to do," Reid said. "We want to work with them as best we can since we hope those same folks will be our customers."

Built in 1951 as the international headquarters of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cumberland building has been on the market for several years because the church relocated its archive and office space to Cordova.

After West heard of Chick-fil-A's plans to buy and raze the building, Memphis Heritage members began an e-mail and phone campaign to Chick-fil-A.

"The people of Central Gardens and other Midtown neighborhoods wrote these e-mails saying, we love your product; we want you here. Just try to work this out," West said. "I think the positive reinforcement assured Chick-fil-A that this was worth the effort."

Architects for the fast-food restaurant met with Memphis Heritage in May and worked out the new site plans.

"If this was another corporation, I don't think they would have worked with us," West said. "Chick-fil-A is community oriented, and they held true to that mission by talking with us and making this happen."

Reid said construction should begin in two to four months. The restaurant is expected to open in early 2009.

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