In a major shakeup in the neighborhood’s business and civic organizations, Buckhead Community Improvement District Executive Director Jim Durrett will become the new president of the Buckhead Coalition. Both group’s staffs will merge, and combine offices with two other key groups, Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Business Association.
Durrett will retain his role as Buckhead CID executive director. At the Buckhead Coalition, he replaces founding president and former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell, whose retirement after 32 years, effective June 30, prompted the reorganization.
Durrett already has another prominent role as the main proponent of “HUB404 Atlanta GA,” a proposed park capping Ga. 400 in Buckhead, and he serves as treasurer of a nonprofit conservancy that is planning it.
The changes make Durrett, already a powerful figure in the community, even more directly influential on local policy and programming than Massell, who long has been nicknamed the “mayor of Buckhead.”
Durrett said in an email that the concept of mergers came from his discussions with a succession committee within the Buckhead Coalition.
“What is crystal clear to me at this point is that leadership and members of all of the organizations will be able to learn and understand the missions and programs of work of each other,” Durrett said. “Mutual support will be elevated, and we will have the opportunity to engage the full Buckhead community in future efforts. That is going to make our work more effective across the board.”
As for the multiple hats he will wear in the new arrangement, he said, “The challenge appeals to me. And the rest is just time management.”
While sharing a nonprofit or not-for-profit structure, the four Buckhead groups cover a wide variety of purposes and goals:
Buckhead Community Improvement District: A self-taxing group of property owners, with a board filled with major developers, that funds public safety, transportation and beautification projects.
Buckhead Coalition: A private, invitation-only community group of 100 members who pay fees of thousands of dollars to join. The group compiles detailed information about Buckhead, provides donations and volunteers to a variety of programs, and hosts an annual lunch known for news-making speakers.
Livable Buckhead: Led by Executive Director Denise Starling, a sustainability-focused nonprofit that oversees construction and operation of the PATH400 multiuse path, organizes alternative commuting programs, consults on conservation improvements like solar energy fixtures, and studies such topics as affordable housing policy. Its board includes representatives of many prominent developers. Starling also chairs two separate but influential Development Review Committees for special city zoning districts in the neighborhood, providing detailed advice on designs.
Buckhead Business Association: Currently led by president Matthew Thiry, an attorney, the BBA is a business networking group known for hosting prominent speakers throughout the year.
The groups have launched a joint website promoting the neighborhood at buckheadATL.com.
In another tightening of the relationships, the Buckhead Coalition board will have ex officio positions for the Buckhead CID board chair, currently Thad Ellis, who is a senior vice president at the real estate firm Cousins Properties; and the Livable Buckhead board chair, currently Bob Stoner, a retired real estate professional. In addition, Starling will be involved in Buckhead Coalition board meetings “to ensure alignment and to foster cooperation and communication,” according to a press release. The board already had an ex officio position for the BBA president, currently Thiry, which will continue.
Massell will remain a consultant to the Buckhead Coalition for two years. In a phone interview, he joked, “I have seller’s remorse. I don’t know why I resigned. … I miss it already.” But more seriously, he said, he stayed out of the succession committee’s work but supports its decision. In a written statement, he said he “endorses the transformation” of the Coalition and acknowledged that after more than 30 years, “it was probably time for some changes.”
Durrett said it is too soon to say what might change about the Buckhead Coalition specifically beyond the merger. Those sorts of discussions will begin after he officially begins the job July 1, he said.
The organizational change was praised by leaders of the various organizations.
“All of our organizations share a common vision to make Buckhead the most welcoming place to live, work, shop, dine, visit and play,” said Ellis in the press release. “No one can quite articulate that vision like Sam Massell, but with four organizations committed to acting and speaking with a more unified voice, we are excited about the ongoing vibrancy of Buckhead.”
“Each organization brings unique strengths to this exciting new working relationship,” said Stoner in the press release. “The whole is definitely going to be greater than the sum of its parts.”
“I am excited about this new arrangement — it is a great next step for Buckhead and I look forward to having better coordination and collaboration between all of the organizations!” said Starling in an email.
Thiry praised Massell’s “decades of leadership” and said the BBA looks forward to working with Durrett in the new role.
“The Buckhead Business Association, The Buckhead Coalition, Buckhead CID and Livable Buckhead have always had a great relationship and interest in supporting each other,” Thiry said in an email. “Going forward, we will do so in a much more intentional fashion. The collaboration will provide efficiencies and opportunities. All four organizations have done a great job independently for years, and together will continue to serve the needs of the citizens and businesses of our great community.”
“Sam Massell is a singular figure whose impact on Buckhead and the city of Atlanta simply cannot be replicated,” said Joe Evans, chair of the Buckhead Coalition board, in the press release. “His retirement after 32 years led us to step back and evaluate how best to marshal our collective resources in a way that builds on his legacy. We are thrilled to forge a deeper bond with the Buckhead CID, Livable Buckhead and Buckhead Business Association.”
For now, the Buckhead Coalition staff will share the Livable Buckhead/CID offices on the 16th Floor of the Tower Place skyscraper, where the Coalition was already headquartered. Eventually, according to Starling, all of the combined staff will move into a new headquarters originally planned for Livable Buckhead in an unused courtyard atop the AMC Dine-In Buckhead 6 theater in the complex at Piedmont Road and Tower Place Drive. That custom-built headquarters is intended to be more accessible. Its opening was delayed by the pandemic, but the groups hope to move there in early 2021, Starling said.
Correction and update: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Buckhead Business Association’s executive director, rather than president, as the organization’s leader and mischaracterized its board position with the Buckhead Coalition. This story has been updated with more information and comments from Jim Durrett, Sam Massell, Matthew Thiry and Denise Starling.