In the scheme of (some) things, 25 years isn’t much — certainly not on a life insurance actuarial chart. But, on that of a rather unusual new civic-type undertaking, it is evidence of success.
This group now blowing its horn — the Buckhead Coalition — started out wondering whether the concept would prove functional. Whereas almost all city entities find one or more “watchdog” type groups sounding off from time to time, this association is styled instead as a supplement to government — there to support both the politicians and the public.
In 1988, Charlie Loudermilk made the observation that most of urban America was coming up short with cash and energy to satisfy all of the wishes of the electorate. With 12 of his friends, they formed the Buckhead Coalition with a mission to nurture the quality of life of those who live, visit, work, and play in the 28-square-mile Buckhead community within the city of Atlanta.
The Korn Ferry headhunting firm invited Sam Massell to organize the effort, and we hit the ground running. The formula, untried until then, was to limit membership to the most influential business leaders in the community, by invitation, charging substantial dues (now at $6,250 annually) to a select 100. All of the organization’s budget comes from the dues and additional voluntary member contributions.
To serve as evidence of its success, a booklet has now been printed chronicling around 180 samples of different initiatives. A listing of this type can serve as a training manual for other groups wanting to emulate this program. An illustration of the diversification of projects undertaken by the coalition and outline in this report includes:
• It was the only arrangement in the country outside of college campuses and interstate highways to place a network of (two dozen) free-standing 911 emergency telephones, which were to reduce crime in a densely populated nightlife area;
• It raised, from its members only, close to $400,000 for the renovation of the Atlanta International School, and a like amount toward construction of the Carl Sanders Buckhead YMCA;
• It paid $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a murderer, which was the highest reward ever paid in the state of Georgia;
• It was the first organization in the U.S. to place (five dozen) automated external defibrillators where people congregate — churches, hotels, office buildings, etc. — rather than on ambulances, which couldn’t get to victims in time through urban traffic; and
• It created the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which has raised over $38 million, from self-taxed member properties plus state and federal grants, for the Peachtree Boulevard project and other traffic-related improvements.
The history of ideas undertaken during the first 25 years will be available to the public in February. In addition, the coalition will continue its celebration of its first quarter-of-a-century with legacy-type programs to be announced over the coming months.
The coalition is a chamber of commerce-type organization, but could also be considered a convention and visitors bureau, or even called a town hall operation by some. It admits to not having any official powers, but knows how to get jobs done and even receives and services citizen requests of all types, with the understanding it will do so from all callers whether members or not.
When its formula for the first 25 years is reviewed, it appears there are no reasons it couldn’t continue, a quarter-of-a-century at a time, long into the future, to the benefit of our community of Buckhead and its city of Atlanta.
Sam Massell is president of the Buckhead Coalition.