He may be known as the unofficial Mayor of NuLu, but these days Gill Holland has turned his attention westward as the driving force behind the Portland resurgence.
Holland, who first came to local prominence when he opened the Green Building on East Market Street in 2008, has moved his offices to the Anchor Building in Portland, where he leads the Portland Investment Initiative that works to encourage business entrepreneurs and non-profits, as well as affordable housing.
“Right now there’s still almost one in four vacant and abandoned properties,” he says. “We fixed up 16 shotgun houses that were in very bad shape, and lots of bad things were happening in those buildings. That kind of urban acupuncture has had a really nice ripple effect. The crime rate has plummeted. Things are trending in the right way.”
His vision for Portland is similar to what he accomplished in the “NuLu” area, and includes housing, retail opportunities and even an Artist Row. Of course, many thought the idea of turning Portland into a thriving economic force was a crazy one back when he started it in 2013.
“There’s always healthy skepticism, but I do think now people see it as something that has the potential to be the next Schnitzelburg, if you want to call it the next ‘something.’ ” he says.
There’s no getting around the fact that criminal activity in Portland and around West Louisville have hurt the area, but Holland believes that can be turned around as well.
“If you look at NuLu 10 years ago, there were at least three emergency calls every day,” he says. “We saw the police cars and ambulances and fire trucks. Now there’s almost no crime in NuLu and there’s thousands of times more people there. Our theory is that if you invest in your community, invest in the people in the community, fix up the vacant buildings where a lot of crimes happen, people can see the potential for more productive jobs in society.”
Holland says seeing the opening of restaurants, the return of businesses and the general optimism that’s taking hold in the West End is something he hoped would happen.
“We are trying to attract more businesses to the area and lots of businesses – everything from Heine Brothers to Interapt (a technology company), lots of non-profits, including World Affairs Council and Interfaith Paths to Peace,” he says.
Holland, a North Carolina native, moved to Louisville in 2006. His primary vocation is that of film producer, but he also owns a publishing company and an independent record label. He’s a part-owner of the Forecastle Festival and Louisville City FC, the pro soccer team.
“I think everybody in Louisville is super-excited about all the activity west of 9th Street, everything from the Portland neighborhood, the California neighborhood, the Russell neighborhood, Heritage West, the YMCA and what I think will be one of the anchor institutions, the great new building that Passport is building,” he says.