By John Schaffner

Refusing to accept a gloom-and-doom view of 2008 and the months ahead, Sam Massell, the former mayor of Atlanta and “unofficial mayor” of Buckhead, told members of the Buckhead Business Association (BBA) Feb. 12, “I’ll just insist there is more brightness.”

Delivering his annual State of Buckhead address to more than 100 BBA members and guests at the City Club in the Atlanta Financial Center, the president of the Buckhead Coalition said: “Like Smuckers jam, with such a peculiar name, we have to be better than our competition.”

Massell declared Buckhead “a most important part of Atlanta and perhaps the life vest that keeps it afloat in this economy. If you travel at all, you recognize Buckhead as a picture of progress and prosperity.”

He added: “I won’t deny we are feeling some of the economic slowdown, but everything is relative, and we’re much better off than other submarkets here and around the country. Plus, as we were taught in Econ 101, the luxury market will be the first to recover when the turnaround begins.”

Explaining the dynamics of the Buckhead community, Massell said there are 21,769,730 square feet of office space within the 28-square-mile territory, 25,336 multifamily condo and rental apartments, an estimated 1,500 retail units, and 5,300 hotel rooms, with a population of 72,000 residents.

“We have about 15 percent of the city of Atlanta’s population, occupy approximately 20 percent of its land, and we pay an estimated 45 percent of the ad valorem taxes,” said Massell, who commonly refers to the coalition he heads as a chamber of commerce-type organization.

In addition, he pointed out that Buckhead has under construction 1,978,100 square feet of office space, 2,155 multifamily units, 199,000 square feet of retail space and 150 hotel rooms, plus expansions of houses of worship and healing arts facilities.

“It is admitted that we can’t absorb all of this overnight,” Massell said. “In fact, it might require one or two years to get out of the red. The upside is Buckhead will be in the envious position of having an ample supply when the demand comes back.”

Citing The Streets of Buckhead as “our most dramatic brick-and-mortar development,” Massell said, “Like the Energizer battery, it just keeps building at an appropriate pace. This will be a destination for tourists, with great benefit to our hotels, restaurants, art galleries and other hospitality amenities.”

Massell reported that some 40 percent of Buckhead’s retail sales come from more than 100 miles away, and The Streets of Buckhead “could increase this factor perhaps twofold.”

The admitted top booster for Buckhead announced that Southern Living Magazine, with a circulation of 2.8 million, has just identified Buckhead as “the best neighborhood for shopping” in the South.

Massell pointed to “an abundance of civic leadership” as a reason for Buckhead’s success, citing 41 neighborhood associations, 33 religious congregations, 18 service and civic clubs (including the BBA), 17 parent teacher associations, four Neighborhood Planning Units, “all with volunteers working for the commonweal.”