Editor’s Note: Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell gave his annual “State of the Community” address Feb. 28 at a meeting of the Buckhead Business Association. The former Atlanta mayor praised Buckhead as supported by the “triangle” of “influence, leadership and power,” and offered some calming words on subjects that have roiled the neighborhood, including property taxes, electric scooters and crime rates. The following is the written version of his speech as provided by the Coalition.
I’m a native Atlantan, born in Piedmont Hospital (when it was Downtown, about where the Atlanta-Fulton [County] Stadium was built), and spent my childhood in Druid Hills, and young adulthood in Midtown, but my love affair was destined to be with Buckhead, where I moved in 1952. I rented an apartment on Adina Drive at Lindbergh, a couple blocks from Piedmont, for $50 a month.
The area is now occupied by condominium townhouses in the half-a-million-dollar range, illustrating the economic growth that has taken place.
Those who live in or have businesses in Buckhead’s 28-square-mile boundary are directly benefiting from the financial increases, for although the community of Buckhead only occupies about 20 percent of Atlanta’s geography, and has about 20 percent of the city’s population, we pay about 45 percent of Atlanta’s ad valorem taxes! Thus, all within the city limits, in effect, get some of their services and use of some facilities paid for by Buckhead.
When I took up residence here 67 years ago, the place was mostly a sleepy bedroom area for Downtown business people. Its peculiar name of “Buckhead” didn’t give one much to brag about. Now, the state of our surroundings spell sound success both fiscally and physically. I refer you to today’s skyline picture we have showing some 60 mid- to high-rise buildings, contrasted to a photo taken from the same place when the Buckhead Coalition was formed 30 years ago, where you might be able to count 10 such developments!
Our population increased over 6,500 last year to 96,918 (which projects to almost a 100 percent increase in the next 10 years!). These numbers will provide the labor market and the necessary housing — a formula which can also relieve some of the commuting to and from Cobb and other abutting governmental entities, improving our traffic congestion.
Since developers started gearing up after the recession in 2012, at which time we had 12,704 apartments, 16,466 new units have been started — a 130 percent increase (being occupied mostly by millennials who walk and ride bikes).
Coupled with this is about $6 million collected annually from commercial properties by our Buckhead Community Improvement District, affording varied physical traffic flow improvements (like the Peachtree Boulevard it did at the recommendation of our Buckhead Coalition). Our CID has at least half-a-dozen traffic improvement projects in the planning stage now, and City Hall has added us to the national “Smart Cities’” high-tech program to further help relieve road congestion.
I’ve told you a little history, because as a senior, I’ve lived it. Mostly what I want to do, however, is explain why the “State of the Community” is so positive. And, it’s because of you here in this room and others like you throughout our community.
You individuals (and the supporting organizations with which you’re affiliated), and those of you representing related news periodicals. You are the influence, you are the leadership, you are the power that brings our success about, just as certain as I’ve also paid my dues!
I give you my triangle routing Buckhead’s formula of success. With just a sampling of organizations, I can rest my case. Add to the Buckhead Coalition I’ve already mentioned: the 11-year-old Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, the 13-year-old Buckhead Heritage Society, the 20-year-old Buckhead Community Improvement District, the 68-year old Buckhead Business Association, the 68-year-old Buckhead Rotary, and the 87-year-old Buckhead 50 club, and you have a pretty impressive picture of which I speak. There is even a Buckhead Natives group (claiming 5,000 members) and a number of other organizations you’ll find listed in our “Buckhead Guidebook,” each having an independent mission and a separate operational formula.
Add to the civic and service organizations the 43 neighborhood associations, and you get a visual of the involvement by Buckhead’s residents of all interests. With this kind of affiliation, all singing our praises, it’s easy to understand how this “branding” has made Buckhead “the Address of Choice” for both residents and businesses, in a very successful way.
So how did you pull it off? If you thought it happened by accident, you’ve been oblivious of the great media help carrying our water.
Although commercial enterprises are known to budget big bucks to brand their products, services and establishments, we as individuals automatically practice this activity constantly, if not consciously. Of course, the results can be negative as well as positive, so take care with what you sow. In our case, at the Buckhead Coalition, we consider this method of salesmanship the foundation for a healthy economic quality of life in the business field, and an equal comfort level for our residents.
As you recognize this opportunity, you will come to realize everyone is interested in his or her surroundings, generating the basic complaints about taxes, traffic and crime. Every major urban center like this confronts these same three issues. What you want to know is that those in charge constantly address all three to keep each from getting unbearable.
Very few of us would sell our real estate for the valuation proposed by the county tax officials (who are required by state law to use 100 percent as a base), on which your annual ad valorem bill is calculated. Please realize that if you don’t agree with the figures, the appeal procedure is relatively easy to process, and more often than not, results in a tax decrease.
I’ve touched on traffic reforms in process, but must add in the rental scooters and bicycles. Although this new phenomenon has some problems yet to be solved by City Council, they are here to stay, and will eliminate some automobile travel. Just be careful – if you are on one or walking or driving near one, as accidents are happening.
Facing crime is a more difficult subject, as you can expect the average individual to be concerned if he or she is the victim, or it happens to a nearby neighbor, or a relative or friend. Although Zone 2’s crime rate is down 5 percent year-to-date, one crime is too many, but no one has learned how to eliminate the occurrences. The good fortune is that we have the Atlanta Police Foundation (originally formed by the Coalition), which musters the expertise and the funds with which to compete with the lawless. In addition, several of our organizations step in to help in their own ways, like these examples the Buckhead Coalition has undertaken: starting the Horse Force, centralizing [the] Zone 2 precinct, offering major rewards, reducing nightlife hours, incentivizing police residences, conducting public safety forums, and more.
Yes, our community of Buckhead is very healthy and has more of the same on the horizon, and you here are samples of what has brought us to this stage, as you represent influence, leadership, and power, primarily through one or more of the membership groups with which you are affiliated, or as a representative of one of the wonderful Buckhead-oriented periodicals we have, unequalled in any other community to my knowledge. This forms the Buckhead triangle, bringing into fruition this joyful, healthy, wealthy, sound section of our city of Atlanta. For this, I thank you.