Sam Massell is a legend in Buckhead, former mayor of Atlanta, and our most prominent leader. Recently I dropped by his office to interview him and understand where his dual passions for leadership and Buckhead came from. Growing up in Druid Hills, Massell fondly recalls childhood visits to Buckhead where his love of our community began with a good ice cream.
“When I was 5 years old, my parents brought me to the West Paces Ferry Wender & Roberts drug store for ice cream, that was the best ice cream in Atlanta. Then when I was 15, every Sunday afternoon we came to the watermelon stand (now where Peachtree Battle Shopping Center is) for slices of cold watermelon. Ten years later when I was 25, I went to Hawks Restaurant (now where The Peach Shopping Center is), it was a 2 story home and the finest restaurant in Georgia. That was the beginning of really great food in Buckhead…
It was the place to be! To see and be seen. I moved to Buckhead when I got married and have been in Buckhead 63 years.”
Massell is an entrepreneurial civic servant dedicated to growing and protecting Buckhead. After his tenure as the mayor of Atlanta, Massell turned his sights on serving his community. Rather than seek election or appointment to an existing office he created The Buckhead Coalition and appointed himself President. His knack for forging his own path of leadership is what makes him as much an entrepreneur as he is leader.
“Going through life, you’ll find people here and there that do things to help or redirect you. I changed dramatically at age 15. I was an introvert, lacking self confidence and maybe had one friend. A popular kid in my class was running for our student body President and asked me to help paint signs for him. I could do that in my backyard.
He won, turned around and made me his treasurer… Though I didn’t want to, he made me do it and I enjoyed being involved, that’s when I got bit. I started getting active in school activities. We didn’t have a bowling league, so I started one and became President of that. I started other societies and became the president. I just started doing my own stuff and one thing led to another. With the Buckhead Coalition, I created an office and took it… Roy Barnes said that about me when he spoke at the Cobb Council of Growth Award Ceremony, that I put my arms around an idea, build it, and then I land a job for life! (chuckles)“
Among hundreds of other documented accomplishments, Massell created the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), a self-taxation program recognizing issues and carrying out solutions. The Buckhead CID creates and maintains an accessible and livable urban environment. Meeting challenges of growth by investing tax dollars collected from commercial property owners within the district contribute to meaningful improvements in the transportation network and public realm that connect people and places.
We do anything… We go in many directions and welcome other organizations who do the same or differently. Probably more than anything else, The Buckhead Coalition is credited with branding Buckhead. That has paid off economically, as a good brand affects everything. I imagine the future of Buckhead to be more of the same, protecting & preserving what we have. And Buckhead is growing faster than Atlanta! In the census from 2000-2010, the city of Atlanta only grew 3,000 people, while Buckhead grew by over 11,000 people! Buckhead has a (growing) 29 million square-feet of office space, it’s own skyline, 84,000 people, 14,000 retail units, 5,300 hotel rooms, and counting.”
He has been full time with The Buckhead Coalition for an inspiring 27 years. Massell’s approach is broad with the vision of nurturing the quality of life in Buckhead. He created the official boundaries for Buckhead with the help of the geography department of Georgia State University, and was then endorsed by the Georgia House of Representatives. Buckhead is the only non-city community in the state that has official boundaries.
Sam Massell is responsible for so much we know and love about Buckhead. His civic leadership and entrepreneurial innovation are a remarkable asset to our community. I, along with so many in our community, am incredibly grateful for Mayor Massell.