One of the first sights greeting a visitor to the Buckhead Coalition’s offices in the Tower Place skyscraper is the crest of Hamilton, Bermuda – the neighborhood’s sister city. It’s decorated with an image of ship held up by a seahorse and a mermaid looking at herself in a mirror.
That’s one of hundreds of plaques, certificates and other memorabilia marking lining the offices’ walls and marking the coalition’s many achievements and partnerships. Sam Massell, the former mayor and current Buckhead Coalition president, calls the trophy-lined hallway “ego alley.”
The Buckhead Coalition is a powerful and influential invitation-only group made up of 100 CEOs and other leaders in the community. Despite the group’s prominence, its office is little-known and rarely visited by the general public.
It’s something of a neighborhood shrine. Among the memorabilia displayed in the office various shovels from ceremonial groundbreakings and a 1996 Olympic pin made for Buckhead, the only community a pin was created for, Massell boasted. A bookshelf in the office is weighed down with over 50 binders filled with Buckhead news and news about the coalition.
Charlie Loudermilk, a prominent Buckhead businessman and founder of Aaron’s Inc, created the coalition in 1988 and tapped former Mayor Sam Massell to run it. Massell has been at the helm ever since, and has created a kind of Buckhead shrine in the coalition’s office on the fifth floor of the Tower Place building at the center of Buckhead.
The Buckhead Coalition has been in that same office since the organization was founded in 1988. While Massell was mayor, he broke the ground on the building in 1973.
“Buckhead is seen as affluent, safe and clean and that’s not by accident,” said Massell, who has been pushing that message since the coalition was founded almost 30 years ago.
One of the major successes of the Buckhead Coalition is successfully lobbying the Atlanta City Council to approve the construction of Ga. 400, Massell said.
Its members donated a combined $800,000 to renovate the Atlanta International Scholl and build the Carl Sanders Buckhead YMCA. They also give money to Buckhead police officers to help them afford to live in the community.
The coalition operates a political action community, Better Community PAC, and will host forums this year for the mayoral, city council and Board of Education elections. The coalition does not participate in partisan politics, but these elections are officially nonpartisan.
Massell currently has two ideas in the works that were inspired by reading about other communities. One will offer free wills to any Buckhead resident and the other will have banks donate unused office space to nonprofits. There are over 50 bank branches in Buckhead, Massell said, and most of them have unused space which could be offered to nonprofits for free, he said.
“That’s what I do. I come with ideas to help Buckhead, even if I steal them from someone else,” he said.
The public doesn’t normally visit the coalition’s office, save for the about 30 members of the coalition that typically attend the monthly meetings and the other coalition staff, which includes Garth Peters, the vice president of the coalition, Linda Muszynski-Compton, the director of communications and Gale Solomon, who does clerical and administrative work.
Peters is a Bermuda native who worked for over 20 years in its Department of Tourism, one of the reasons Hamilton was chosen as that sister community.
Massell’s office is filled with trinkets, buck sculptures, hats from various Buckhead businesses and a board covered in newspaper clippings about the community. Massell remains a reader of newspapers, and various local, state and national papers cover his coffee table.
His desk is also often covered with papers, as he doesn’t use a computer, but handwrites everything for his staff to type up.
“I guess it is maybe habit more than anything,” Massell said. “What we do works, or I would change it.”
Massell personally had the 1969 poem “Looking for the Buckhead Boys” printed, signed by the author and hung on the office walls. It was written by Georgia poet James Dickey and reflects on his time going to high school at the former North Fulton High School in Buckhead.
The poem served as impetus for the creation of the charitable group The Buckhead Boys, which holds a reunion each year for alumni of Buckhead high schools that Massell attends.
An excerpt of the poem reads, “The Buckhead Boys. If I can find them, even one, I’m home. And if I can find him – catch him in or around Buckhead, I’ll never die: it’s like my youth will walk inside me like a king.”
Massell also fields plenty of calls throughout the day, from old friends, city officials, acquaintances met years ago who just want to chat, and Buckhead residents looking for help. Massell said he gets many requests throughout the day, asking him everything from what time a store or restaurant closes to how to get a pothole filled.
“We will take any call we get and try to solve it,” he said. “So far, we are batting at 100 percent.”
To chronicle all the work Massell has done in Buckhead and Atlanta, he will publish a biography in September. It will be published on Labor Day this year and titled “Play It Again, Sam.”