Downtown is the heart of Hammond, and the Downtown Development District has a new pulse. The DDD was blessed with a new Executive Director last summer, and Chelsea Tallo has revived the program and revitalized our main street.
Tallo was born and raised here in Hammond, America. She went to Holy Ghost Catholic School and graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas in 2010. From there, she left Hammond to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Going away for school had a huge impact for me,” said Tallo. “I did not appreciate Hammond until I was no longer here. If I hadn’t left, I would definitely not be in this position because I sure wouldn’t have the pride for Hammond like I do now.” She graduated from ULL in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a minor in Marketing.
Tallo’s cousin Shelby Driscoll said, “When Chelsea went to Lafayette, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. She’s adventurous, outgoing and loves trying new things so I knew she could thrive anywhere. But with our whole family in Hammond, I thought maybe she’d miss that home that Hammond provides.” Tallo ended up being incredibly involved on ULL’s campus and in her sorority, holding many leadership positons as well as landing an internship at Downtown Lafayette. Driscoll said, “I couldn’t have been more proud of all that she ended up accomplishing. Now that she’s back home though, I get to see the impact she is making up close. Our whole family is honored to be downtown Hammond patrons and watch Chelsea shine.”
Once Tallo had graduated though, she had a tough time finding a job. She said that networking became her job and with the help of her mom, a downtown business owner as well, they finally landed on the right conversation. Mayor Pete Panepinto mentioned that the DDD executive director position would be opening up soon, and encouraged Chelsea to apply. Tallo said, “I applied, was interviewed and got the job in just a matter of weeks.” She added that she was the only applicant with good experience (even though she was the youngest) because of her internship at Downtown Lafayette.
Tallo describes her job as undefinable. “We do so much, but the main goal of the office is to promote and develop downtown Hammond to make it a better place to live, work and play. As Executive Director, I oversee and implement everything we do.” She says that to her, Hammond is a small town community with a big town feel and it’s just home. Every day for her is different and there’s no such thing as a normal one. Tasks change week to week and whether she’s preparing for an event like Hot August Night or lining up a board meeting, the city always has its own mind and there’s always something going on.
Only a few months into her position, Tallo found herself with an outgoing farmer’s market manager and no DDD assistant. The DDD board combined the positions and come February, Tallo had the pleasure of hiring one of her good friends, Olivia Graziano. Graziano said that she and Tallo are now together more than they are not. Not only are they in the office together every day, but they both teach at Lemoine Academy of Dance, and Tallo often helps her with the dance team at St. Thomas. Graziano said she has become a professional friend, and their creative processes are unique to their relationship.
“We have ‘formal’ brainstorming sessions that Chelsea organizes where we sit down in her office (usually with food) and fill the 5 giant white boards that line her walls with ideas for events, publications, etc. We then reorganize our ideas into more structured concepts and erase the wild thoughts. Sometimes, though, we’ll have random ideas and just call or text each other,” said Graziano.
Since Tallo has been in charge, she has implemented tons of additions to main street’s activities, calendar and more. One big project she started was the Downtowner, a short tabloid in the Daily Star that circulates every two months. Tallo and Graziano put together short features of businesses, people or fun stories around downtown with the help of some Daily Star staff. The publication is not only a fun project for the team, but has proved an interesting way to feature downtown to the Daily Star readers and advertise for the DDD.
Downtown Past Sundown is another invention of Tallo’s. The first one was in September and was a success for the first run despite the surprise rain. This event is where people are welcome to come after school and after work to enjoy sales and specials by downtown businesses, live music and an after-hours farmers market appearance on a Thursday afternoon once a month. The October Downtown Past Sundown will feature trick-or-treating as well.
Graziano added that Chelsea’s extensive background knowledge of Hammond and her deep roots make her extremely educated. “Chelsea runs one of the most recognized Main Street organizations in the state, and she’s constantly looking for new ways to refresh and revitalize our Downtown to keep it relevant! If I could describe her in one word, it would be invested. Since her time with the DDD, she has transformed events into profitable parties for Downtown. She also created the first strategic plan the organization has seen in 15 years, and she has a vision of where she wants Downtown to go.”
She has a big vision at that. Tallo is adamant about rebranding the DDD very soon. Former DDD board member Johnny Chauvin is excited for that implementation especially. He said, “Having a fresh face in the DDD office was just what our main street needed. Rebranding the DDD itself is going to seal the deal of an exciting future that Chelsea has been working so hard to build. A young, yet involved and innovative, lifelong Hammondite is exactly who should be leading our growing yet historic community.”
Graziano agrees with Chauvin in that Tallo has the city’s best interests at heart. “When she believes in someone or something, she’ll invest her whole heart, and when she talks about her city, her home, she beams with the same pride that people from major cities, like New Orleans, Chicago or Detroit do. She believes in our downtown and as cheesy as it is, I believe in her.”