Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell

For 25 years, the Buckhead Coalition and its President Sam Massell have been bullish on Buckhead.

Massell said the coalition plans a series of events marking the milestone for the nonprofit civic association founded in 1988.

“The skyline difference from today and 25 years ago is unbelievable,” Massell said. “Between the 2000 and 2010 census Atlanta’s growth was only around 13,000 people. All of that occurred in Buckhead. … It just points out we’re doing something right.”

Massell occupies a peculiar niche in Atlanta. He was the city’s last white mayor and first Jewish mayor, serving from 1970 to 1974. He has transformed himself into the unofficial mayor of Buckhead, acting as the community’s elder statesman, chief promoter and devoted defender.

He founded the coalition with another Buckhead icon, Charlie Loudermilk.

“Charlie Loudermilk came up with the idea,” Massell said. “The underlying purpose is we shouldn’t take government for granted. Urban America, not just Atlanta, and cities everywhere were struggling to meet their budget needs and there was a place for civic leadership to supplement government.”

The coalition’s primary funding source comes from membership dues. Its ranks include dozens of CEOs, chairmen and presidents of Atlanta companies. Beyond the dues, which cost more than $6,000 per year, members routinely reach into their wallets to pay for other projects around the community.

The coalition raised $400,000 to bring the Atlanta International School to Buckhead, for example.

“We don’t hold any pancake breakfasts or galas or balls,” Massell said. “We’re the only organization in Atlanta I think that does not sell tickets to its annual meeting.”

The organization is also an exclusive group. Massell said there are 21 people on the waiting list to join and that the annual meeting is one of the most elusive tickets in town.

Among the coalition’s programs and initiatives are a political action committee that donates to candidates in nonpartisan races, and the Buckhead Guidebook, an annual compendium crammed with maps, phone numbers and statistics.

Massell also has a seat on several local boards.

Wright Mitchell, president of the Buckhead Heritage Society, said the group has backed the society’s plan to identify and connect green space.

“The Buckhead Coalition has done as much or more for Buckhead in the last 25 years than any other nonprofit association,” Mitchell said.

Catherine Cattles, current president of the Buckhead Business Association, called the coalition a “really strong partner.”

Massell said the coalition’s agenda for the next 25 years won’t change.

“If it ain’t broke, we don’t plan to fix it,” Massell said. “Frankly, the formula has worked so well.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com