Masses of apartment-renting millennials are coming to Buckhead, and the neighborhood should embrace the change, Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell told the Buckhead Business Association at its April 7 meeting.

Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell gives his “State of the Community” address to the Buckhead Business Association April 7 at the City Club of Buckhead. (Photo John Ruch)

“These renters…they will be tomorrow’s leaders in Buckhead and we had better be their friends,” said Massell in his “State of the Community” address at the City Club of Buckhead. “Buckhead will no longer be just a commune of old-money homeowners. It will be a mixture of old money and fresh thinking.”

Buckhead will have to deal with the “tremendous impact” of the apartment boom that he estimated will bring 24,000 new residents—a 30 percent population increase—in the next four to five years. In one specific policy idea, he called for an “affordable retail” program to retain small, mom-and-pop businesses as apartment towers displace commercial strips.

Massell described Buckhead’s influx of millennials the way some global leaders talk about international immigration—a big cultural change that is best handled by embracing it. He suggested business association members reach out individually to young newcomers and even offer them some free services.

Massell also recalled that he came to Buckhead in 1952 as a tenant of a $50-a-month apartment, then went on to become mayor of Atlanta as well as president of the City Council and the business association itself.

“So dismiss any concept that renters are second-class citizens,” Massell said.

Massell said there are challenges to the population shift, too, but that his biggest concern is simply that Buckhead leaders aren’t acknowledging the changes underway.

He said that since the apartment construction boom started in 2012, the amount of units proposed, under construction or in the rental phase has increased 117 percent. The Buckhead Coalition has counted 48 complexes with 14,953 units, he said.

Massell said he is concerned with the character and quality of some of those new buildings, which “won’t look very good in 10 years.” He is also worried about losing small business with neighborhood-oriented businesses, which he wants to address with “affordable retail” set-asides like policies that require a certain percentage of housing units in a large building to be priced affordably.

“The same thing can be done with retail, in my opinion,” Massell said, adding that he is already talking with developers about it “using friendship…until we get a law.”

Massell’s speech was met with applause, with business association president David Coxon calling the changes “scary” but worth embracing. But audience members had questions about various traffic and development impacts.

One member wanted to know what Massell meant by his “old money” and “fresh thinking” comments. “I’m just talking about the people who built Buckhead. I don’t mean to disparage anybody,” Massell said. “I don’t expect the millennials to all be millionaires, but they definitely have fresh thinking,” he added, suggesting that people visit Atlanta Tech Village “and you’ll get a taste of what fresh thinking is all about.”

“Believe me, they are coming,” Massell said of millennial renters in his speech. “A positive reaction can ensure the continuation of Buckhead’s pleasant personality, plus its progress and prosperity.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.