On the morning of Thursday, February 28 visitors straggled in through the front doors of Maggiano’s on Peachtree Street. They shook the rain off their jackets and umbrellas and made their way up the stairs to a large, wood-paneled banquet hall lit by the warm glow of chandeliers. The guests milled about and greeted one another, chatting as they loaded up plates with breakfast foods and filled their cups with hot coffee. Before long the Buckhead Business Association Empowerment Breakfast was called to order and everyone found their seats. Some remarks and general business later, former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell approached the podium and addressed the crowd.
An Atlanta native, Massell grew up attending Druid Hills High School, the University of Georgia, Emory University, and was drafted into the United States Air Force in the 1940s. He was the city’s 53rd mayor and served from 1970 to 1974, during which his administration established MARTA, the Omni Coliseum, and Woodruff Park. He was the first Jewish mayor in Atlanta’s history and pioneered minority opportunity in local government, such as appointing the first woman to the Atlanta City Council. His lifetime spent in Atlanta spans four long careers that include public office, association management, commercial real estate, and the tourism industry.
Massell discussed the growing density of the Buckhead skyline, the potential of a park over GA 400, the crime rate, and the 133% increase in apartment units in the last 7 years which he hopes will house millenials who may choose bikes and walking over commuting in cars.
When acting as president of the National League of cities, Massell spent a lot of time traveling to and observing other major urban cities and the way they handled inevitable issues like crime, traffic patterns, and real estate. “I was proud of Atlanta every time I went to another city,” he reflected.
“I told you a little history because as a senior, I’ve lived it,” explained Massell.“Mostly what I want to do now is to explain why the state of the community is so positive. It is because – ladies and gentlemen – it is because of you here in this room and others like you throughout our community. You individuals, and your supporting organizations with which you are affiliated, and those of you representing related news outlets, you are the influence, you are the power, you are the leadership that brings our success about. I’ve paid my dues along with you.”
Now 91 and a half years old, Massell was asked what he hoped to see for Buckhead’s future. “I won’t be here” he quipped, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd. “I’ve seen steady, sound growth throughout my lifetime, and I think that’s very healthy.”
“This is the greatest community, there’s nothing like it. I’ve got a love affair with it. Thank you.”