Derby week is a time for Louisville to shine and no one has helped polish it up more in recent years than Gill Holland. If you’ve sipped coffee at Please & Thank You, enjoyed lunch al fresco at Ghyslain, grabbed cocktails at Rye or spent a September Saturday at Nulu Fest, you owe a little bit of gratitude to Holland for his work in revitalizing the Nulu neighborhood of Louisville. Not only did he renovate The Green Building but he’s been a huge advocate for the incoming businesses and has helped foster the neighborhoods rapid growth in the last ten years. Now he’s taking his experience and considerable talents to the Portland neighborhood where he hopes to foster the same kind of community growth.
I’ve been familiar with Gill and his work for a while but had the chance to get to know him a lot better thanks to my 9-to-5 gig at Boxcar PR where we’ve started a speaking series of sorts where local businessmen and women speak to our staff about their career paths and experience while offering words of wisdom. After hearing about Gill’s path to Louisville, his substantial contributions to the community and his plans for the future, I knew he would make a great Creative Louisville feature especially because there’s so much more than just the developer side of things.
Holland is also the man behind sonaBLAST! records, a Louisville-based music label whose artists include Ben Sollee (you know you want to watch his version of “My Old Kentucky Home” again) and Jalin Roze. He also has an accomplished career in movie production and has produced more than 100 films. So yeah, he’s got a wide range of experiences and lots of great stories to share; plus you know he’s has some great local recommendations.
Developer and Creative Entrepreneur. Film Producer. Music Executive. Community Investor and Builder. Aspiring City Councilman.
I studied a ton of different things at UNC before getting my law degree there. I worked in a law firm in Paris (France, not KY) and one of our clients was a French film producer. I love movies, so I figured maybe that would be fun to try, so I gave up the law and starting interning in NYC. Then I caught the entrepreneurial bug and starting producing movies, created my first company, sold it at height of the market in 2002, started another film/talent management company and two music companies, moved to Louisville and realized real estate is like film and music, it is just “real” property instead of “intellectual” property. The process of having the vision, motivating and inspiring the crew, and building the company and brand is the same.
My children always inspire me to be a better person. Even though they are young, I still think about the legacy I as a citizen and father am leaving them. Having our first child really made us think about what kind of world we are leaving the next generations and inspired us to “go green” on The Green Building. I am also just inspired by a lot of the involved citizens who care deeply and are active in their neighborhoods. I have never lived in a city where so many people care so much about their community. That is super-inspiring!
Long-term community engagement
Committed, Interested, Hard-working
I have a backing vocal credit on a record produced by Tommy Ramone from The Ramones! I just happened to be in the studio that day…My mother is a Norwegian immigrant, basically worked her way over on a boat (I remember teaching her the Pledge of Allegiance when she became a US citizen) and my 14th (or 16th?) great grand-dad was John Howland who got swept off the Mayflower in a storm and scrappily pulled himself to safety grabbing onto the fishing nets trailing behind.
Proud to be a “trailing spouse.” Or it could be called a “+1.” I never know if Louisville chose me or I chose Louisville, but for me, it is a match made in heaven! I have lived in many places around the world and this is where I will be carried off in a pine box to Cave Hill Cemetery if there is still room for me…
Louisville has so many nice neighborhoods, I think I have to say my favorite neighborhood is whatever neighborhood I am in at any given moment. I love living in the great historic neighborhood of Harrods Creek. I have given a lot of my energy over the last decade to working in NuLu and Portland and I love the excitement in those areas. Old Louisville, Smoketown, the Highlands all have great history. And “neo-urbanism” is done oh-so-so right at Norton Commons.
I love the river-side patios at Cunningham’s and Captain’s Quarters in Harrods Creek near where I live. Other spots I like are Galaxie, the downstairs bar at Decca, and the Back Door (one of America’s great bars).
Louisville is such an insanely foodie town that it would take me about a month to go to all the places I love.
A lot of folks have never gone to Falls of the Ohio, and I think it is a must. We can break down the Ohio River boundary just like we are slowly breaking down the 9th street “wall.”
Before I moved to Louisville, I knew about the amazing work being done at the Humana Festival of New American Plays. I believe the Humana Festival is now the longest-running corporate-sponsored cultural event in the country (over 40 years!) so major props to the Humana Foundation who doesn’t get enough attention for this impactful international event! I learned about a small music festival called Forecastle after moving here and blind emailed that website and met my now great friend JK McKnight and got involved supporting his great vision and watching it grow into one of the nation’s premier events!
It is way too hard to just pick one! Garage Bar. Impellizeri’s. I pick up often from Boombozz in Westport Village and sometimes Papalino’s.
It kinda depends on what kind of person I think they are, because I like folks visiting to have a great time so they will come back! Generally speaking, I send them to NuLu. West Main Street Museum Row (KMAC, Slugger Factory/Museum and 21-C for art, drinks and a room) Falls of the Ohio State Park. The new Speed Art Museum is stunning. Louisville City Football Club soccer game. A drive down scenic River Road to Captain’s Quarters for the Ohio River experience.
I got my law degree from UNC and moved to Paris (France, not Kentucky) to work in a law firm. We worked on a lot of stuff (including the Chunnel) and I got put on the account of a well-known French film producer. I have always loved movies but had never thought about that as a viable career path so when my visa ran out, I moved to NYC where independent film was really disrupting the studio system. I worked promoting French cinema (during the GATT talks) and representing the Cannes Film Festival so got to know a ton of people and started my production company cineBLAST! My first film Hurricane Streets directed by Morgan J Freeman (not the actor) was the first film ever to win three prizes at Sundance. Over 100 movies later, my film career has been downhill ever since!
As an independent movie producer, I have normally never been able to afford to work with stars AFTER they get famous, so most of the fun stories are the folks I worked with on their very first films or before they achieved stardom – this is a long list that includes Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck, Alan Cumming, Adrien Grenier, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Bonnie Hunt, John Heard, Edie Falco, to name a few (hey, you asked me to name drop!). I think my favorite was working with Kentucky’s own Ned Beatty on “Sweet Land” and “Spring Forward”, two of the most critically acclaimed films I have worked on. His body of work is staggering and his generosity unparalleled.
Seeing many of the 30,000 cars that whiz down East Market Street daily actually stop and become customers of our great local shops, galleries and restaurants! Seeing the whole block of 1850 buildings saved from the wrecking ball and becoming a hub of innovation, local food and locally-owned businesses. Working with the neighbors and long time residents, non-profits (like Home of the Innocents), churches (St John’s) and businesses (Muths and Joe Ley’s have been there for decades) to revitalize the area.
In 2008, the year we opened The Green Building, I think we had about 40,000 people come to the building. Many of those were folks curious to see what sustainable building looked like, and while some just liked the part we play in reducing emissions and having a healthier work environment, many were also inspired by the cost-savings we generate! I think the whole notion of sustainable building practices, using local products, incorporating more plants and natural light, having less worker turnover and fewer sick days, is now a pretty accepted building practice.
In 981 miles of the Ohio River, there is only one naturally occurring obstacle, the 350 million year old Devonian fossil beds known as Falls of the Ohio. So when folks coming downstream got out of their boat, they would portage around to the Portland wharf to continue their journey. So Portland is crucial and key to Louisville’s existence and history. Just two history points to leave you with for now: Henry Clay owned most of Portland back in the day (he either won it or lost it in a poker game, legend has it). The first real paying job that Abraham Lincoln had (the first “silver” he earned) was as an 18 year-old working on digging the Portland Canal. So Portland’s unique history, combined with its downtown proximity and great families, local businesses and “Portland Pride” all make it an attractive area for all of us to see reach its full potential!
More gets done at the grassroots local level than at many other levels in the world! I have been working with the NuLu Business Association for about a decade, and we are always able to reach consensus among various diverse stakeholders to move the area forward. Portland Now is the great neighborhood association and that was one of the first groups we got involved with before even moving our offices here early 2014. One has to also learn to appreciate all the little “wins” along the way and not get frustrated with how sometimes slow it seems neighborhood development goes! For positive change to work effectively and fairly for all, organic and patient positive changes are what is required.
I started sonaBLAST! in 2002 after making a little money on a TV show called “Greg the Bunny” on Fox. Instead of doing anything wise, like buying a house (which I couldn’t afford living then in NYC anyway!) I started a label and music publishing company. I had always been frustrated trying to license music for my movies, so it seemed like I was well-positioned to be able to promote musical acts in the movies we were working on and also save money for the films by having music readily available at negotiable rates. I like a lot of different kinds of music and we have a diverse slate of musicians and musical acts. Our experience on the label side also led to us creating the Louisville Music Awards to showcase our great musical culture and history here.
It is really fun to think that our songs, many of which are from Kentucky artists, get played/streamed over 1,000,000 times every month all over the world and are in shows that have millions of viewers weekly. Meeting a young Ben Sollee and releasing his first record “Learning to Bend” and seeing what he has done since has been nothing short of awesome! Touring with Mark Geary and having (later Oscar-winner for “Once”) Glen Hansard sing on our record. Hearing Louisville’s “The Pass” on “Gossip Girl”. Cheyenne Marie Mize getting a glowing review in the NY Times.
We continue to leverage the positive momentum in NuLu and Portland and will be having some more exciting announcements this year in those areas! I am also trying to bring my private sector experience and business experience, along with a lot of board and volunteer service with many non-profits, to the public sector as the next Councilman from District 16. Since I have not run for anything since 2nd grade, this is a great learning experience and I am having fun meeting more involved citizens and neighbors!
In addition to everything you just read about, Holland is also working with Academy Award-winner Robert Redford, who serves as the Executive Producer of The Seer, a documentary on Kentucky’s own Wendell Berry.
Images: Kertis Creative