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Into the Future

New Orleans Magazine People to Watch 2011

(page 3 of 4)

Kellie Grengs
Co-Founder, The New Freret; CostumeDesigner, Loyola University Theatre Arts and Dance Department

New Orleans is a city of streets with character: Bourbon, Frenchmen, Magazine, St. Claude and St. Charles (avenues), Oak and, most recently, Freret. The revitalization of the eight-block stretch of the “new” Freret Street has been due largely to the effort of the Freret Business and Property Owner Association, which now calls itself The New Freret.

Kellie Grengs, a Loyola University professor and Freret neighborhood resident, is one of the three board members of FBPOA; she keeps the board organized and brings in experts to help small business owners.

“Our corridor has been anchored with 15-plus years of blight,” says Grengs. “Once the corridor is stabilized, the surrounding neighborhoods can really come back to life.” The rebirth has begun with Cure bar, Dat Dog, Adolfo Garcia’s restaurants High Hat Café and Ancora and several studio and gallery spaces as well as other retailers and restaurants.

Nic Perkin
Co-Founder and President, The Receivables Exchange

A belief that businesses need efficient and affordable access to capital in order to thrive in our 21st century economy is what drove Nic Perkin (and his partner and CEO Justin Brownhill) to found The Receivables Exchange. The Exchange “is an online marketplace for working capital where businesses can get the cash they need to thrive, without the constraints and cost imposed by traditional finance options,” Perkin says.

Before launching the Exchange, Perkin was head of Global Business Development at Massive Incorporated, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006. “I come from New York City, but I’ve been in love with New Orleans since my freshman year at Tulane University,” he says, “It’s my true home and I’m so grateful to play a part in this exciting chapter of the city’s history.” The Exchange is “growing rapidly,” he says, and Perkin expects the trend to continue as they officially launch their Corporate Receivables Program and new Partners initiatives later this year.

Malachi Hull
Director, Department of Safety and Permits,Taxicab and For Hire Vehicle Bureau

If you’ve recently taken a taxi or for-hire vehicle home from an indulgent night out and never once worried about your safety, you have Malachi Hull, Director of the Department of Safety and Permits, Taxicab and For Hire Vehicle Bureau, to thank. “So many individuals disregard normal safety precautions by getting in the cars with complete strangers,” Hull says. “My favorite part of my job is to know who’s transporting our riding public.” Hull is striving to make our for-hire industry the “best in class.”

“We have an unprecedented amount of major tourist events in the next few years,” Hull says,” so we’re working to shore up and make vast improvements in these industries and to the bureau itself in advance.”

Hull, his wife and their three children moved from Atlanta because he shares our mayor’s commitment to reforming the bureau and for hire industry and he looks forward to implementing the “best in class” disability friendly taxicab (DFT) program, which will provide for hire transportation services for all individuals.

Michelle Thomas
Deputy Mayor for Operations, City of New Orleans

Deputy Mayor Thomas, a native of North Carolina, came to the Big Easy from the Garden State by way of Washington, D.C. In New Jersey, she served as Business Administrator for the City of Newark under Mayor Corey Booker and is largely credited with slashing the city’s budget deficit by over $100 million. In D.C. she worked as a consultant on federal grants. In her new post, Thomas oversees city services.

Feeling like she “was out of the game” for the duration of the year she spent in the private sector, Thomas is eager to jump back into public life. “I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines at one of the most important times in our nation’s history,” she says.

One of her immediate goals is reforming the city’s permitting process in order to “make the city more business-friendly” in order to “spur economic growth.” The city recently received a $4.2 million commitment from one of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charities, and Mayor Landrieu has declared his intentions to commit many of those funds to permitting reforms.

The NOLA Project

A.J. Allegra, artistic director of The NOLA Project, a theater company, knows the ups and downs of succeeding in the art world. “Most theater companies, like garage bands, don’t make it past a year or two,” he muses. But six years after its inception, the NOLA Project has become prevalent on the scene.

After performing sold-out renditions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Besthoff’s Sculpture Garden, the troupe promised the audience: There will be more Shakespeare. In December they will perform the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet; this month they perform Mark Twain’s Is He Dead?. But the group doesn’t just stick to traditional theater – they are also known for edgy dramas and dark comedies.

Presently, the group’s biggest obstacle is finding space in which to perform. “The closures of Le Petit [Théâtre du Vieux Carré] and Le Chat Noir put a damper on some local theater,” says Allegra. “Losing two iconic stages is very tough. But we’re overcoming the space challenge by finding places such as the Besthoff Sculpture Garden or the Stern Auditorium inside the museum.”

Allegra says that a major component to their sustainability is how well they get along. “We are like a large family that understands each others’ personalities and quirks, and that translates onto the stage. We have all grown to love living and working in New Orleans – we love the audiences and their honest and vocal reactions to our work.”

James Nolan

A fifth-generation New Orleanian, author James Nolan has worked as writer-in-residence at Tulane and Loyola universities and directed the Loyola Writing Institute from 1998 until 2010. He currently teaches writers’ workshops at the Writing Institute at the Arts Council of New Orleans and is releasing a new novel, Higher Ground, in October.

Higher Ground is the second part in what Nolan plans to be a trilogy of books about New Orleans. The first, a collection titled Perpetual Care: Stories, came out in 2008, and the third book (another collection of short stories) is in progress under the working title You Don’t Know Me. Nolan brought back a character, dirty cop Vinnie Panarello, from “Open Mike,” a story in Perpetual Care, to play a major role in Higher Ground.

“New Orleans isn’t only a place but a story we tell ourselves,” says Nolan, who has also taught and written in Spain for a decade. “This story has gotten us through wars, epidemics and storms. Wherever I am, my real home has always been the imagination.”

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