Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell tried out his new millennials-embracing pitch on one of the community’s old-school audiences, the Buckhead 50 Club, at the group’s May 10 dinner at American Legion Post 140 in Chastain Park.

Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell speaks to the Buckhead 50 Club at its monthly dinner May 10 at American Legion Post 140 in Chastain Park. (Photo John Ruch)

“As homeowners, as individuals, what I’m saying is, don’t see [the new renters] as second-class citizens,” said Massell to a largely quiet response from the 84-year-old social and civic club’s men-only membership whose average age is reportedly north of 60.

For those among the Buckhead 50 who weren’t racing out to bike to a collaborative workspace and meet some millennials, Massell—a former Atlanta mayor—also touched on the 2017 mayoral campaign and the fate of Southern hospitality.

In a speech to the Buckhead Business Association last month, Massell debuted his challenging pitch about embracing the thousands of renters coming as a result of Buckhead’s apartment boom. He repeated the key points to the Buckhead 50 with some updated numbers: 49 apartment complexes proposed or underway with 15,266 total units.

“We’ll have a large supply of newcomers that will be in our community as strangers,” said Massell, adding they will seek to patronize or work at a variety of businesses, including, “yes, upscale nightlife.”

With maybe 25,000 young renters coming to Buckhead, Massell advised the club members, “Don’t fight it. Don’t think you can avoid it.” Instead, he said Buckhead’s older homeowners should welcome the new generation’s “profile of power” as future leaders.

“I know you have mixed feelings about what I told you,” Massell said to the quiet response, though it appeared some response may have been muted simply because audience members already knew his speech from prior media coverage. However, one member did ask how to “nurture” the quality of life for Buckhead’s new millennials, with Massell recommending support for Buckhead Coalition initiatives.

On the political front, Massell ran through a list of 11 declared or potential candidates to replace Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in 2017. He offered brief comments on only a few, all of them Atlanta City Council members.

Massell said Kwanza Hall is getting publicity and “he’s a factor, I think.” Council President Ceaser Mitchell is “in my opinion, probably the front-runner right now,” Massell said, adding, “That’ll change tomorrow” and many times in the race. He had special praise for Mary Norwood, calling her the “hardest-working council member I’ve ever known.”

Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris, who formerly represented the Buckhead-area District 7 City Council seat, noted that the district has been shrinking in size with each redistricting as the population increases. He asked about the future of Buckhead’s representation, leading Massell to suggest that council redistricting involves “gerrymandering,” or favoring of certain demographics or candidates.

“Gerrymandering…may be unconstitutional, but nobody’s testing it, that I know of,” Massell said, suggesting it “may be good for somebody to try.”

One member asked Massell about the dwindling of classic Southern hospitality and manners, especially in Buckhead. Another audience member bluntly suggested it’s because “so many Yankees and liberals are here now in the city.”

Massell said that the problem is “not Buckhead. It’s urban America,” and offered to rescue Southern hospitality if there’s a workable way to throw it a life preserver.

“You’re not wrong about what you’re complaining about, and if you come up with an idea I’ll work on it,” he said. “I’d love to tackle just such a challenge.”

The Buckhead 50 Club’s June meeting will feature a state Department of Transportation official speaking about metro Atlanta roadway projects. The club is invitation-only, but it’s often seeking new members. For more information, contact club president Michael Moore at 404-667-4762.

John Ruch

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

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