Business leaders to lawmakers: Oppose ‘Buckhead City’ or leave us out of it

An aerial photo shows the Buckhead. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
An aerial photo shows the Buckhead. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

‘A strong Atlanta is the path to a safe Buckhead.’

Dozens of the most powerful businesses in Buckhead put state lawmakers on notice Tuesday: Oppose the Buckhead secession push or remove the neighborhood’s commercial center from the new city’s proposed boundaries.

The letter from more than 30 businesses, including many of the marquee names in commercial and residential real estate, came as state legislators prepare to consider a Republican-backed measure to carve out a separate city of Buckhead from the existing Atlanta boundaries.

It represents the most significant corporate backlash to Buckhead cityhood since the effort to split Atlanta first emerged. The coalition owns a collective $4.7 billion in real estate value in Buckhead, and accounts for roughly $57 million in annual property taxes to the City of Atlanta.

“We respectfully request that the General Assembly table the proposed legislation to create Buckhead City. If the General Assembly is unwilling to do this, we request that the General Assembly exclude the commercial district of Buckhead from the proposed Buckhead City,” the letter says.

“Simply put, the risk to our companies, employees, residents, and customers is too great to bet our tax dollars on a start-up city with no experience.”

ExploreBuckhead cityhood hangs in the balance

The companies that signed the letter spanned a cross-section of industries, including AMLI Residential, Banyan Street Capital, Cortland, Cousins Properties, Edens, Jamestown LP, Regency Centers, Selig Enterprises and The Loudermilk Companies.

Nationally-known hoteliers Grand Hyatt Buckhead and JW Marriott also signed the letter, as did the Atlanta Tech Village startup incubator and the Regency Centers retail developer.

Executives at some of the companies had already publicly opposed Buckhead cityhood, but the letter represented a united show of force from the corporations racing to keep Atlanta whole.

The de facto leader of the secession initiative is Bill White, a wealthy recent transplant from New York who contended that a new municipality could better combat violent crime and meet the needs of the residents. He has called for Buckhead residents to decide for themselves in a referendum.

Combined ShapeCaption
Buckhead City supporters, including Bill White, who is the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO as well as area senators, local residents and some opposed to the creation of a new city gather for a press conference at Loudermilk Park on Wednesday, Sept 29, 2021. The group announced that during the upcoming special legislative session the bill will be discussed. Several state senators signed the bill onsite, illustrating support in the state Senate. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Buckhead City supporters, including Bill White, who is the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO as well as area senators, local residents and some opposed to the creation of a new city gather for a press conference at Loudermilk Park on Wednesday, Sept 29, 2021.  The group announced that during the upcoming special legislative session the bill will be discussed.  Several state senators signed the bill onsite, illustrating support in the state Senate.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Combined ShapeCaption
Buckhead City supporters, including Bill White, who is the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO as well as area senators, local residents and some opposed to the creation of a new city gather for a press conference at Loudermilk Park on Wednesday, Sept 29, 2021. The group announced that during the upcoming special legislative session the bill will be discussed. Several state senators signed the bill onsite, illustrating support in the state Senate. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

“We are never surprised when corporate opponents throw up a Hail Mary just to make headlines in an attempt to slow our meteoric success,” said White, adding that some of the corporations have worked to “undermine and suppress Buckhead’s right to vote on its own destiny.”

The letter invokes many of the arguments brought by other opponents, which include every Democratic legislator who represents the city and a handful of rural Republicans who believe state-backed legislation carving out a new municipality would violate the principle of local control.

The corporate leaders argue that splitting the city will hurt Atlanta’s brand and set a new precedent, as no neighborhood has ever seceded from an existing municipality in Georgia’s history. They also raise concerns about higher administrative costs and “public school chaos” from the rift.

The sharpest words, however, involve promises by Buckhead cityhood advocates that a new municipality would help law enforcement curb violent crime. The businesses said a secession would backfire by weakening Atlanta and leading to “more criminal behavior across the entire Metro region.”

“Bad actors do not respect city limit signs,” the letter read. “Buckhead will not be spared regardless of the size of the police force. A strong Atlanta is the path to a safe Buckhead.”

ExploreDuncan deals a blow to Buckhead cityhood push

The corporate powers urge lawmakers to give new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens more time to implement his strategy to crackdown on crime and improve city-state relations.

Lobbying and fundraising efforts on both sides of the argument have ramped up since the legislative session began last month, and cityhood has become a key factor in statewide political races.

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Though several powerful Republicans in the state Senate back the idea, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has emerged as a leading skeptic. Duncan said he’s yet to hear a “compelling argument” to carve up Atlanta, and recently assigned a Buckhead cityhood proposal to a Democratic-led committee where it’s certain to stall.

Still, other Buckhead cityhood measures remain pending, and several powerful GOP leaders in the state Senate are behind the push. Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston have both declined to endorse the legislation, but they also haven’t shut the door on the idea.