Column: Smart-growth leader will run Buckhead CID

By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 14, 2009

The Buckhead Community Improve-ment District has tapped Atlanta civic leader Jim Durrett as its new executive director.

Durrett currently is executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition, a 4-year-old coalition of about 40 civic organizations dedicated to promoting smart-growth practices in the Atlanta region.

At the Buckhead CID, Durrett will succeed Scotty Greene, who has served as executive director for 10 years and is stepping down at the end of this month. Greene coordinated the two-phase Peachtree Boulevard project aimed at improving the pedestrian experience and traffic flow along the corridor.

David Allman, founding chairman of the Buckhead CID and a developer with Regent Partners LLC, said Durrett was the unanimous choice of the search committee because of his professional background “in dealing with the big picture of what a healthy, sustainable community looks like.”

Before heading up the Livable Communities Coalition, Durrett served five years as executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta District Council. He also served as vice president of environmental affairs at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Durrett said all his roles have been about promoting smart growth in the Atlanta region and the state.

“Here I saw an opportunity to apply what I have been teaching and preaching about in one community,” Durrett said. “We need to be transforming Buckhead and other job and town centers from drivable, suburban environments to walkable, urban environments that are served by transit.”

Durrett said he grew up in Buckhead and spent his formative years there going to Westminster Schools. Now he and his family live in DeKalb County near Clairmont Road and Interstate 85, within bicycling distance to Buckhead.

“I got rid of my car,” Durrett said. “I’m commuting by bicycle and MARTA, and I sometimes use Zipcar.”

Interestingly enough, Allman also is chairman of the Livable Communities Coalition. Allman didn’t realize Durrett was a candidate for the Buckhead job until his name came up on a list of finalists.

Now Allman and the coalition’s executive committee will have to find someone to succeed Durrett.

Candidates vetted

Business and civic leaders are beginning their full-fledged evaluation of candidates running for office in the city of Atlanta.

On Tuesday, Aug. 12, the Committee for a Better Atlanta interviewed about half of the 13 candidates running for mayor, including the five leaders: City Council President Lisa Borders, City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, state Sen. Kasim Reed, attorney Jesse Spikes and former city employee Glenn Thomas.

The group also spent Aug. 13 and 14 interviewing candidates for city council president and all the candidates running for the at-large city council seats. In early September, the group will interview candidates for the other city council seats.

“The goal is to have results ready by Sept. 18,” according to Che Watkins, who coordinates the Committee for a Better Atlanta that includes 25 business and civic organizations and leaders.

The committee, which has been around for 13 years, will score each of the candidates based on the interviews and how they fill out their questionnaires. The questionnaire responses have been posted on

The committee is focusing on the following issues: transforming government, public safety, homelessness and panhandling, transportation, economic development, leadership within the region, and infrastructure.

EduPAC reconvenes

A similar effort is under way with candidates running for seats on the board of the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

EduPAC, a community and business group, is beginning its process to evaluate candidates for the APS board.

“We are committed to promoting and supporting qualified school board candidates,” said Sonny Walker, co-chairman of EduPAC. “We have been diligently working on electing the best that we have.”

EduPAC will present a slate of recommended candidates to the community, a slate that Walker said has great weight. Since EduPAC started, the endorsed slate has won at least 80 percent of the time, and sometimes 100 percent.

EduPAC began in 1993 when the APS board was an embarrassment to the city filled with shouting matches and outlandish behavior. A large community coalition of business, civic and faith leaders came together to overthrow the existing board by electing responsible and qualified leaders. That year, eight of the nine EduPAC candidates won.

Paula Lawton Bevington, vice chairman of EduPAC, said they will hold interviews with candidates in September and release the slate during the first week of October.

The organization hopes to raise about $100,000 to promote their proposed slate of candidates.

The elections are Nov. 3.

191 Club move update

The board of the Commerce Club will hold a specially called meeting on Friday, Aug. 15, to discuss the impending merger with the 191 Club.

The two downtown business clubs have been in merger talks for more than a year, and now it appears they are ready to present a finalized deal to their respective boards.

“We wanted to give the board an update and a final summary on how we are going to go,” said David Ratcliffe, chairman of the Commerce Club and also chairman and CEO of Southern Co. “Our membership numbers continue to decline, as do theirs.”

Ratcliffe said he believes one club “will be a better and stronger entity” than having two clubs.

The concept, however, has changed. Originally, the merged club, which will be called the Commerce Club, would have been located on the top two floors of One Ninety One Peachtree Tower in space once occupied by King & Spalding LLP.

Now the plan is for the merged club to be located on just the 49th floor, giving the building’s owner — Cousins Properties Inc. — the ability to lease out the 50th floor.

Ratcliffe said he would love to be able to throw an opening party in December 2010.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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