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September 18, 2007

Got a song to go with that? One East Market gallery thinks the whole neighborhood should be named after it. Is that wrong?

Gill Holland: owner of NuLu Gallery, and his wife, Augusta Brown, are rehabbing this East Market Street building. Is this the beginning of a NuLu neighborhood?Branding is an effort to turn words into gold — or, more specifically, to communicate a concept that creates prestige (and profit) for the entity behind the product, be it a soft or hard drink, a pop star, a potato, a store, a city or even a neighborhood.Last week, the Greater Louisville Community Branding Project unveiled “Possibility City,” an advertising campaign meant to persuade young professionals and businesses to move to Louisville, or at least to consider that possibility.Meanwhile, at least one neighborhood is getting in on the act. Ever heard of NuLu?Well, Gill Holland and others behind Gallery NuLu, which opened in March at 632 E. Market St., have been touting the name of the gallery as the new name for the neighborhood. Until now, those who frequent the vicinity on the monthly Gallery Hops, and members of the East Downtown Business Association, have called it the East Market Gallery District or the East Downtown District. Some call it the Art Zone.The gallery’s recent press releases and Web site feature this verbiage: “NuLu, the area of ‘New Louisville’ flourishing with new galleries, boutiques and cultural opportunities. Think: SoHo in New York or London.”Of course, the SoHo areas of both big cities didn’t get their names through branding campaigns and focus groups. (Historians believe London’s Soho, in the city’s West End, originated in the 17th century from an exclamation used by hunters. The New York neighborhood’s name came after citizens began slurring the description “south of Houston Street,” to make it SoHo.)I called Louisville’s Zephyr Gallery to find out what someone there might know about the new moniker. “It’s certainly not a name that any of us have ever used,” said Chris Radtke, an artist and a member of Zephyr, which has been at 610 E. Market St. since 1998. After several other phone calls, I reached Bill Marzian, who owns the buildings that house Toast (736 E. Market St.) and Scout (801 E. Market St.). He’s also been president of the East Downtown Business District Association since 2002. Marzian said Holland, the NuLu owner, has been attending the association’s meetings and floating the name change for several months now.Holland, who founded the indie music label sonaBLAST! Records and is also a film producer (“Sweetland”), moved to Louisville two years ago, around the time he married Augusta Brown, daughter of Christy and Owsley Brown II, of the liquor dynasty. He was surprised to find the interesting galleries and activities in Louisville, particularly on East Market.“It just feels super vibrant and happening,” he said, adding that it reminded him of New York’s SoHo as it existed 20 years ago. He said he thought, “We have to come up with a snazzy name to market the neighborhood.”His excitement about the neighborhood also helped motivate him to partner with his wife, an urban planner, to begin renovating an old warehouse at 732 E. Market St., into a building that would be certified “green” by the U.S. Green Building Council. Plans for it include using recycled construction materials, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, and plumbing that conserves water. It could house offices, studios and theaters that use new technologies, akin to an entertainment complex called WorkPlay in Birmingham, Ala. It seems Marzian is getting caught up in the fervor. He said the Downtown Development Corporation, a private sector, nonprofit corporation that has championed blockbuster projects like the arena and high-priced residences, has discussed providing banners for the neighborhood. He hopes those banners can boast the neighborhood name.“We need to get this branding issue resolved,” Marzian said. “A stronger identify for this area of town could be a big help to all of us here.”Billy Hertz, who made his home on East Market from 1979 until just a few years ago, laughed in his characteristic baritone chuckle when he heard about the plans for naming the area.“What’s really amazing is that they think this is new,” he said.Hertz opened the first art gallery in the area in 1991, in a building he bought at 636 E. Market Street in 1984. In 1991, he bought the building that NuLu Gallery calls home, which he still owns.Hertz always thought the neighborhood had the potential to be a small version of New York, but that it lacked services and businesses, such as a hardware store or a grocery, that make neighborhoods viable. He thinks the basic infrastructure the area needs has not materialized because most people who might profit from a downtown boom live far from the city center (nearly all of the 25 DDC board members do not live downtown; some work in the city center). Hertz has a greater concern about the lack of reasonably priced residences for artists and other creative people, who can’t afford condos that start at $140,000. He recalls — when he managed the Zephyr Gallery on Main Street — how soaring rent became too much for artists in that area. That led several galleries to East Market, and he worries developers could push artists out of this neighborhood as well.Hertz also is not a big fan of branding. While he has no problem with the name NuLu, he does think the public, in time, should decide what the name is. Contact the writer at ekramer@leoweekly.com