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Atlanta's big city appeal: Kenny Leon reshapes its potential.

As the headquarter location for Coca-Cola, CNN, Earthlink, and The Home Depot, Atlanta is re-branding itself as a metropolis distinguished for its cosmopolitan verve and southern charm. Kenny Leon, co-founder and artistic director of True Colors Theatre Co. (www.truecolorstheatrecompany.com), is one of the A-List talents tapped to conceptualize Atlanta's new image "based on three core values of the city: opportunity, optimism, and openness."

Leon, 49, will direct August Wilson's last work, Radio Golf, this year. Two years ago, he was responsible for casting Sean "Diddy" Combs in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which garnered two Tony Awards. When he's not directing a rehearsal, Leon cherishes a game on the greens at The Heritage Golf Club (www.theheritagegolfclub.com)--where he hosts the Greens in the Day, Blues in the Night charity event--and cruising in his convertible through peaceful farming towns to the Big Canoe mountain reserve. Real estate development, marketing, finance, and the hotel industry steer the city's employment curve. Atlanta boasts an affordable cost of living and is ranked as one of the nation's fastest-growing high-tech metro areas, according to WetFeet.com. In 2004 it ranked No. 1 on BLACK ENTERPRISE's Top Cities For African Americans. Atlanta's $3.5 billion convention and tourism industry is fueled by mega-church retreats, Black college football classics, the National Black Arts Festival www.nbaf.org), and a smorgasbord of conferences and tradeshows. Leon, originally from Tallahassee, Florida, says Atlanta's potential is still ripe for [those motivated] to help define what the city is and can be." He offers a glance at his city's opportunities.

AROUND TOWN: ATLANTA

ACCOMMODATIONS

* Midday business meetings are a fixture at the Park 75 Lounge and Terrace at the Four Seasons Hotel (75 14th St. NE; 404-881-9898). A convenient midtown location, faultless service, and "generous support of the arts" are why Leon recommends that visitors stay here.

* The Georgian Terrace Hotel (659 Peachtree St. NE; 404-897-1991) is an all-suite hotel and historical landmark built in 1911 that epitomizes southern elegance, while providing tailored packages for corporate executives.

RESTAURANTS

1 "Eating is a form of entertainment," opines Leon, who adores the fine Thai dining atmosphere at Nan Thai Fine Dining (1350 Spring St.; 404-870-9933).

* The banana pudding is reason enough to visit Beautiful Restaurant (2260 Cascade Rd. SW; 404-752-5931), a mama's kitchen-style eatery, says Leon. Many are just as passionate about the mac-and-cheese.

NIGHTSPOTS

* James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire headlined recent shows at Chastain Park Amphitheatre (4469 Stella Dr.; 404-233-2227), an outdoor venue that offers stage-side tables and a cushy lawn for attendees to enjoy twilight picnics.

2 Local blues bands like Chicago Joe Jones are regulars at Fat Matt's Rib Shack (1811 Piedmont Ave. NE; 404-607-1622), a humble joint specializing in misty blues and savory BBQ.

SHOPPING

3 "I have 100 pairs of tennis shoes," offers Leon, to match vintage clothing from the 1930s that he finds at Stefan's Vintage Clothing (1160 Euclid Ave. NE; 404-688-4929) in the heart of Little Five Points.

* To source luxe threads for his engagements Leon heads to Saks Fifth Avenue at Phipps Plaza (3500 Peachtree Rd. NE; 404-262-0992), an emporium for premium brand names.

OUT & ABOUT ATLANTA

Sampling Atlanta requires a serving in three parts: Buckhead, the city's uptown district, offers shopping at Lenox Square (3393 Peachtree Rd., NE; 404-233-6767), theme bars, and nightclubs. Midtown is where many mingle at glam galas at the Woodruff Arts Center 4 and attend family events in Piedmont Park. And downtown's always abuzz with student life from six neighboring colleges, souvenir shoppers at Underground Atlanta (50 Upper Alabama St.; 404-523-2311), and festive concertgoers at Philips Arena.
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Title Annotation:True Colors Theatre Co
Author:Drakes, Sean
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:607
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