By John Schaffner

Declaring that Buckhead is in “a very good state of health… probably as sound as any community in the country,” Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell told more than 150 members and guests of the Buckhead Business Association Feb. 14 that any talk of seceding from Atlanta “is an ugly proposal with racial connotations, which will devastate the city.”

The former Atlanta mayor, in delivering his annual “State of Buckhead” address to the business group said, “although Buckhead is very much a destination in its own right, we must never lose sight of the fact we are part of the whole city.

“It’s true we have only 15 percent of Atlanta’s population and we occupy only 20 percent of its land, but we pay approximately 45 percent of its ad valorem taxes. So there’s no question about our value to Atlanta,” Massell explained. “How would you like to see the headline in the New York Times “Atlanta Bankrupt?” What would that do to development? Would you ever see another developer start anything in Atlanta if that happened?”

He said equally troubling is the proposal that would take part of Fulton County — including or excluding Buckhead — and make it a new county. “The ramifications (would be) devastating,” he stated.

“Both of these ought to be opposed,” Massell said. “It might sound sexy to have your own city, but we are getting along just fine. Buckhead is booming.”

Massell told the standing room only crowd at Anthony’s restaurant on Piedmont Road, “central downtown is the seat of city, state, county and federal government operations and houses our national sports teams. Midtown is the cultural center for Atlanta. Both areas are important to our community.”

Responding to a question from the audience about the proposed streetcar line on Peachtree Road, Massell said, “I am not giving the position of the Buckhead Coalition, because we have some members who are very staunch supporters of the streetcar and some who are vehemently opposed to it.”

Massell explained the Portland streetcar is very successful.

“In Portland they say it has generated some development. If you ran a streetcar down Stewart Avenue it would generate some development,” he said. “But running a streetcar down Peachtree is not going to generate development.”

Massell said the sticking point is bringing back overhead wiring.

“Everybody was so pleased when I was mayor in 1972 when we got rid of the overhead wires. How is a streetcar going to run over a metal plate?” he asked.

“We have the Peach bus that does everything that streetcar can do,” Massell explained. “It goes from Buckhead to Midtown to downtown seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. It can go over those metal plates. It can go around an accident; it can even reroute. Streetcars can’t do that.”

But the unofficial mayor of Buckhead, said, “What really irritates most people is that they are going to tax you for it — tax everybody who lives along that route within a few blocks on either side, even people living in condos and apartments. They are talking about a project that has gone anywhere from $300 million to $800 million. That bus is not costing you anything. MARTA is paying for that.”

Since there was more opposition than there was support for it, he said the decision had been made not to develop a streetcar in Buckhead.

On the subject of city government, Massell urged the audience to pay close attention early on to the 2009 elections. In all, 26 seats are up for grabs and will introduce a new mayor, city council members, president of council and board of education.

“There might be people in this very room — or friends of yours — who should be encouraged to run for public office,” Massell said. “There is no greater way, in my opinion, to make a contribution to your fellow man.”