Downtown New Orleans is more than the city’s geographic center: it’s a hub of businesses, galleries, shops and residences that together form the vibrant heart of the Big Easy. If you’ve ever strolled Common Street or Carondelet, ever marveled at the crowds of suited strangers hurrying to and from work on St. Charles, ever sipped a glass of wine and gazed at local artwork on Julia Street, you’ve experienced the Downtown Development District, or DDD.
Without the contributions of local residents, workers, businesses and nonprofits—often behind the scenes—the downtown community might be just another neighborhood. Presented by the DDD, the Downtown NOLA Awards recognize and commend these key players in the safety, economy and culture of downtown New Orleans.
Best Public Safety Ranger – Sonia Goodman
Creating a safe space downtown is pivotal to New Orleans’ lifestyle and economy, from the tourists who stroll Canal Street to the office workers who drive local business. That’s why the Downtown Development District created the Public Safety Ranger program (formerly known as the Hospitality Ranger program).
Public Safety Rangers like Sonia Goodman patrol the downtown area on foot and by bike, keeping a vigilant eye out for potential safety hazards and criminals. Goodman, who remained with the program during its transition, epitomizes the qualities of a Public Safety Ranger. She is courteous, knowledgeable and respectful of her fellow Rangers—with her daily dedication, the DDD continues to thrive.
Best Downtown NOPD Detail Officer – Larry Adams
Along with 8th District NOPD officers, downtown New Orleans is protected by two to three DDD Detail Officers who patrol the area 24/7. This added police presence helps deter crime and offers a substantial sense of security to residents and visitors. Officer Larry Adams, who has been part of the DDD Detail for almost four years, has been instrumental in creating this increased security. Adams focuses on quality of life crimes, such as illegal Canal Street vending, panhandling and graffiti, that detract from downtown New Orleans’ safety and charisma.
Best Downtown Public Safety Partner – Karen Sepko
Without the help of residents and local businesses, the DDD would not have earned its reputation as New Orleans’ up-and-coming arts and culture district. Karen Sepko is proof that one individual’s efforts can make a difference in public safety. Not content to endure crime, she acts as a civilian extension of the 8th District NOPD and DDD officers. Last fall, Sepko hosted a crime walk and social event where neighbors could get to know their local NOPD patrol officers; she has taken a proactive approach to reporting suspicious activity, and founded a Warehouse District security group to increase the safety of her neighborhood.
Best Downtown Clean Team Member – Larry Thomas
Walking through the Downtown Development District is like a breath of fresh air—mostly because it is. Thanks to the Clean Team, residents of the DDD enjoy a trash-free neighborhood, despite being one of New Orleans’ most heavily trafficked areas.
Larry Thomas, a member of the Clean Team for close to six years, is a team leader who helps ensure that downtown streets remain clean and graffiti free. Thomas and his crew pitch in daily to remove graffiti, repaint fixtures, pick up trash and pressure-wash sidewalks and streets. Large events like the Super Bowl and natural disasters like Hurricanes Gustav and Isaac offered Thomas’ team a challenge, which they met admirably, helping keep downtown New Orleans beautiful even in the face of daunting tests.
Best Downtown Clean Team Partner – Gertler Law Firm
Along with the DDD Clean Team, local businesses, individuals and groups lend a hand to keep downtown New Orleans inviting. With five nominations in this category, it’s clear that locals aren’t content to leave this work to the Clean Team. The Gertler Firm, a law practice located on the historic 100 block of Carondelet, provides a daily example of the commitment it takes to keep the DDD looking good. Each morning, Gertler Firm employees remove litter and hose down the sidewalk in front of their offices, ensuring that Carondelet is pleasant to walk down for the hundreds of residents and tourists who pass through every day. Josh Gertler, an associate of the firm, demonstrates a commitment to reporting crimes that detract from the quality of life downtown, such as sanitation issues and illegal signage.
Downtown’s Best-Kept Secret – Dee’s Coffee
Residents who don’t often visit Baronne Street have probably never heard of Dee’s Coffee. With a prime location in the heart of the Downtown Development District, Dee’s could rely on its placement alone to attract customers. Instead, the shop offers “service with a smile”—a pleasant atmosphere, arguably the best espresso in New Orleans and fresh pastries every day. Providing a welcome respite for hundreds of Super Bowl volunteers this past February, Dee’s cemented its spot as Downtown’s best-kept secret.
Best Downtown “Third Space” – Merchant & Varieties Alley
As the center of New Orleans’ booming entrepreneurial industry, the Downtown Development District offers stiff competition when it comes to creative shared spaces. Merchant, a Maritime Building café and coffee shop that opens onto Varieties Alley, began garnering rave reviews as soon as it opened. Touting “coffee, crepes and grapes,” Merchant offers Illy coffees, imaginative gourmet sandwiches and wine to both locals and DDD visitors. It’s a great spot for a productive morning at work on your business, or a relaxing evening in the ambient side lounge—a versatile “third space” for a rapidly evolving workforce.
Best Downtown Recycling or Green Project – Bike Easy
In recent years, New Orleans has become much more bike friendly. This is due in part to the efforts of Bike Easy, a cycle-centric initiative to get more residents on bikes, improving their health and cutting down on pollution. For the Super Bowl this February, Bike Easy helped bring Bike Share, a community bike borrowing program, to the downtown area. Out-of-town visitors and residents took advantage of Bike Share’s automated kiosks to get easily to and from destinations like Woldenberg Park, the Convention Center and the Super Dome.
Best Downtown Adaptive Reuse Project – Little Gem Saloon
How can you keep a historic landmark intact, while still taking advantage of its location and real estate value? The Little Gem Saloon offers a model for preservationists scratching their heads. The restaurant and music venue is located on the 400 block of South Rampart Street, a vibrant destination for jazz when it was first being played in New Orleans. First founded in 1903, the Little Gem Saloon underwent countless reinventions as different jazz clubs, a black vaudeville theater and even a “loan office” where hard-up musicians would pawn and acquire instruments. Maintaining its historic and structural integrity, the Little Gem Saloon’s 2012 renovation reintroduces the venue to New Orleans, paying homage to its rich past and once more establishing downtown as a musical destination.
Best Downtown Façade Improvement Project – Ernest M. Morial Convention Center
Though the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center has always been a focal point of the Downtown Development District, its appearance has endured some criticism. That’s changed with the Center’s new façade improvement project, begun in 2012, which has adjusted the orientation of the entrance and added walls of glass to let in light. Along with larger windows and a sleek, welcoming sign, the Convention Center also created an outdoor terrace space where visitors can relax, soak in the sun and eat lunch between meetings. The Julia Street side of the Center has never looked better, extending a persuasive invitation to come in from the streets of the DDD and explore.
Best Downtown Public Works Project – Loyola Streetcar Line
The missing piece in New Orleans’ public transportation route system, the Loyola Streetcar Line, was completed in 2013 in time for Super Bowl visitors to use it. Both attractive and functional, the line’s candy apple-red cars carry riders down Loyola Avenue, easing traffic jams and revitalizing the surrounding district. The RTA’s $53 million project laid 1.6 miles of track, along with solar-powered shelters offering shade and schedule information. The Loyola line has already begun to kick-start economic development along the avenue; the RTA is looking ahead to projects extending the line into the St. Claude area and connecting it to the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar route.
Best Downtown Development Project – Hibernia Tower Apartments
A number of candidates vied for this honor, which celebrates new developments revitalizing the downtown area. But progress is nothing without residents to take advantage of it, which is why the Hibernia Tower Apartments received the award for best downtown development project. The 23-story edifice is a familiar part of the New Orleans skyline, topped with a white tower that’s lit with festive holiday lights throughout the year. Now it’s also a residence, with 175 apartments and amenities like a fitness center, rooftop pool, bike parking and a community room for residents who can’t get enough of downtown.
Downtown Brand Ambassador of the Year – YLC’s Wednesday at the Square
The Young Leadership Council is the country’s oldest organization of young professionals, so it makes sense that the YLC is also the most active organization promoting the Downtown Development District. Along with many other community initiatives, the YLC spearheads the popular six-week Wednesday at the Square concert series. Each spring, residents from all over New Orleans, and many from downtown, converge on Lafayette Square for a free concert every Wednesday by local and national musicians. Along with music, attendees can purchase food, drinks and local arts and crafts. The fundraiser benefits the nonprofit YLC, which in turn continues to create projects to improve New Orleanians’ quality of life (including the lights illuminating the Crescent City Connection).
Downtown iMinder of the Year – Matt Wisdom/TurboSquid
An “iMinder” is a DDD community member whose forward-thinking attitude is helping to further the “Industries of the Mind,” including digital media, biosciences or arts-based businesses. With both venerable nominees and newer players, iMinders are pushing the Downtown Development District into sustainable economic viability.
Matt Wisdom, a founder of TurboSquid, has dominated an industry many of us didn’t know existed, offering high-quality 3D models for use in artwork, video production, game creation and other professional domains. TurboSquid now offers the largest library of 3D models for sale in the world, with more than 275,000 models for use in creative professions. In addition, the company created and implemented the CheckMate standard of quality in 2011 to standardize model production and save users time and effort.
Downtown Inspiration Award – The Idea Village
A nonprofit founded in 2000, the Idea Village helps keep the state of Louisiana’s entrepreneurs where they belong—at home. With a focus on social change, the organization offers competitive prizes, inspiration and training to local startups and businesses.
Instead of the “brain drain” our state experienced from 1990-2000, we’re now enjoying a “brain gain,” as entrepreneurs flock to the Crescent City. The Idea Village portfolio has created over 2,000 jobs by itself in the New Orleans community.
The Chairman’s Award – The Roosevelt Hotel
Given at the discretion of the Chairman of the Downtown Development District, this award recognizes “extraordinary contribution and commitment to the development of Downtown New Orleans.”
After Katrina, the Roosevelt Hotel displayed unflagging dedication to the renaissance of the DDD, and became a title sponsor of the DDD’s “Canal Street: Home for the Holidays” initiative. The month-long schedule of activities, including an outdoor movie, a parade and fun for kids, brings New Orleans together to celebrate the holiday season. A historic part of the city from its legendary Sazerac Bar to its sultry Blue Room, the Roosevelt is a stanchion of downtown New Orleans.