In a recent speech to the Buckhead Business Association, Sam Massell, the former Atlanta mayor and current Buckhead Coalition president, proposed an “affordable retail” program to include small, independent businesses in new commercial developments.

He briefly described the idea as a set-aside for discounted space in such projects. Reporter Newspapers asked him to give a more detailed explanation of “affordable retail.”

Q: Where did the “affordable retail” idea come from? Are there existing programs like this anywhere?

A: The problem was occurring in all directions: strip centers of primarily mom-and-pop, local businesses disappearing when purchased for the proliferation of high-rise apartment buildings. Thus, I proceeded to reason through how this could be corrected to the benefit of surrounding neighborhoods, and thought about the similarity to “affordable housing” programs. To my knowledge, there are no “affordable retail” governmental procedures, according to my inquiry of the International Downtown Association.

Q: How do you envision it working in terms of setting the percentage of space and the rental rate?

A: I haven’t done detailed planning on such a proposal, but would start with the common denominator of 10 percent often used in [affordable housing] pilot programs, with rental rates being established, perhaps with a formula using 10 percent as a discount from rates quoted for remaining chain-store type space.

Q: Has any local developer agreed to do affordable retail following one of your conversations about this?

A: Not specifically, but I have had major developers listen and promise to consider the idea as they progress with their apartment development cycle (sometimes taking two or three years from their initial land acquisition).

Q: Have you spoken with any City Council members or the mayor about making this a formal policy or ordinance?

A: I have mentioned the idea to [city] planning staff for support (which has been positive), but not yet with elected officials.

John Ruch

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