about / team
Core Team

Dan Barasch, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Dan leads the Lowline’s community engagement, political outreach, fundraising, and strategic planning. He formerly led strategic partnerships at PopTech; held several strategy, operations, and marketing roles at Google; and worked in small business development within New York City government. Dan has also consulted for UNICEF in Nairobi and the 9/11 Survivors’ Fund in Washington DC. He began his career producing international affairs programming at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, where he co-produced the weekly NPR show “It’s Your World.” He received a BA from Cornell University and a Master degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Devon Lawrence, Director of Development
Devon leads the Lowline’s fundraising strategy and operations. Her prior experience includes strategic roles at two of the most formidable fundraising institutions in New York City: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Robin Hood Foundation. At the Met, Devon led capital campaign events and fundraising focused on the rebuilding of a new contemporary art wing, the Southwest Wing Project. She also ran the Travel with the Met program, producing over 30 trips per year around the world. She previously worked for over four years at the Robin Hood Foundation, where she managed year-end donor solicitation campaigns, donor events, and improved protocols for donor funding.

Blaze Lightfoot Jones-Yellin, Manager, Community and Youth
Blaze leads the Lowline’s community engagement initiatives and oversees the Young Ambassadors professional development program for teens. He formerly led youth engagement at The Nature Conservancy in New York and managed youth and community programming at the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Blaze began his career as a community organizer and youth mentor with Americorps. He received a B.A.Sc from Cornell University and is a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.

Nerissa Moray, Director of Planning and Design
Nerissa oversees the various workstreams of the Lowline’s research and schematic design processes. Prior to joining the team, Nerissa spent over eight years as an Associate Principal at BuroHappold Engineering managing building engineering and city and regional planning projects in New York and around the country. She also has an additional decade of experience as a project manager delivering large-scale information technology projects for government, financial, and manufacturing industry clients.

James Ramsey, Creator and Co-Founder
James Ramsey is the principal of RAAD, a high-end design firm based in New York City. Ramsey’s experience in design began as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he won a Bates Fellowship to study cathedral design in Europe. He then went to work as a satellite engineer for NASA, where he was a part of the team that created the Pluto Fast Flyby and the Cassini satellites. After his time at NASA, Ramsey worked as an architect at DMSAS in Washington, DC and at Penny Yates Architects in New York. He has taught design at the Parsons School of Design and is engaged in active research on the Lowline’s “remote skylight” technology.

Courtney Surmanek, Manager
Courtney provides support on communications, development, and events. She is a graduate of New York University and Fellow of The Art & Law Program, an independent think-tank housed at Cornell University. She has supported program management and strategy at several Lower East Side community organizations, as well as the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and WaterFire International.

Board of Directors

Zach Aarons is an expert in entrepreneurship, seed stage technology investing, consulting, and finance. He currently serves as the Director of Digital Media for Millennium Hollywood, a proposed real estate development project in Los Angeles, California. He has been an active angel investor in mobile technology, investing in the seed rounds of 40 companies. In 2007, he founded the company Travelgoat, which he grew into one of the most well known online/offline walking tour companies in New York City. In 2008, Aarons founded the strategic consulting firm Apostate Partners. Zach began his career at boutique investment bank Peter J. Solomon Company where he worked on M&A and restructuring transactions in the retail and apparel industry. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA from Brown University.

Serena Altschul is an Emmy Award-winning television journalist with two decades of experience in investigative journalism. She has produced for and appeared on Channel One News, MTV News, and CNN and is currently a correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning. Serena has also appeared on Conan O’Brien, Charlie Rose, and Bill O’Reilly, and has collaborated with Jay Z on the song, “Dopeman.” She is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award.

Dan Barasch is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Lowline. He formerly led strategic partnerships at PopTech; held several strategy, operations, and marketing roles at Google; and worked in small business development within New York City government. Dan has also consulted for UNICEF in Nairobi and the 9/11 Survivors’ Fund in Washington DC. He began his career producing international affairs programming at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, where he co-produced the weekly NPR show “It’s Your World.” He received a BA from Cornell University and a Master degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

David Barry is President of Ironstate Development Company, which owns and manages thousands of residential, commercial, and mixed-use units throughout the New York/New Jersey region.  His firm currently oversees approximately $1 billion in development, including the first major development of Staten Island’s North Shore.  He led the transformation of the Cooper Square Hotel into the Standard East Village and is launching a brand of sustainable, sleek and space efficient buildings called URL (Urban Ready Living). Barry is deeply committed to reinforcing the cultural fabric of the urban landscape with compelling public spaces like the Lowline and Staten Island waterfront. He serves on the boards of Fortress Investment Group, the Liberty Science Center, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.  A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and a former All-Ivy wrestler at Columbia University, Barry served as the Greco-Roman Team Leader for USA Wrestling for the 2012 Olympics.

Paul Hoffman is the President and CEO of the Liberty Science Center, one of the nation’s largest and most preeminent interactive science museums. He is a noted expert on the public understanding of science, and has advised NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is the former President and Editor-in-Chief of Discover magazine, the former Editorial Chairman of Big Think, and President and Publisher of Encyclopaedia Britannica. He is also an award-winning author of 11 books. Chicago magazine called Hoffman “the smartest man in the world” and The New York Times called him “Mayor of Strange Places.” Hoffman is co-owner of two Brooklyn restaurants, Rucola and BrisketTown, and an early investor in Kitchensurfing.

Jolie Hunt-Potter is the CEO of Hunt & Gather, a high-touch marketing and communications firm she founded in 2013, where she works with leading media, entertainment and technology companies. Hunt-Potter was previously the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at AOL. From 2008 to 2012, she was Senior Vice President, Global Head of Brand and Public Relations at Thomson Reuters, managing brand, advertising, PR and social media for the news and financial services businesses. Prior to this, Hunt-Potter was the Global Director of Corporate & Business Affairs at IBM and the Director of Public Relations at the Financial Times. Hunt also holds committee and board positions for PopTech, The Wisemen, Arthur W. Page Society, The Seminar, the Civilian Public Affairs Council for West Point Military Academy and The Episcopal School of Los Angeles. She was named ‘In-House Professional of the Year’ by the European Public Relations Consultants Association in 2012 and received an honorable mention for the PRWeek award ‘PR Professional of the Year.’ She is a graduate of Boston University and completed the Global Executive Program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Spain’s IE Business School in 2010.

JB Miller  is the President and CEO of Empire Entertainment and is an Emmy Award-winning producer with over two decades of experience as a producer for thousands of corporate, non-profit, and private events in the entertainment industry. In 2011 JB was recognized as Producer of the Year by BizBash’s Reader’s Choice Awards. He was previously Vice President at Overland Entertainment and associate director of On-Air Talent at MTV. He has served on various non-profit boards, including Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, Keep a Child Alive, Royal Family Productions, and the Performing Arts Advisory Committee of the Japan Society.

Signe Nielsen is Principal of Mathews Nielsen, an internationally recognized landscape architecture design firm based in New York City. She has led more than 400 projects, nationally and globally, and these projects have won almost every possible design award. But her sense of design’s public mission extends far beyond these interventions. In addition to her hands-on project leadership, she is the co-author of several books on sustainable and green design for the NYC Department of Design and Construction. Signe has taught at Pratt Institute for more than two decades and has also lectured and juried competitions at institutions around the world, including Harvard University and the Ecole Normale Superiure in Paris. As president of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York, Signe is a strong and effective advocate for a beautiful, inspiring and diverse urban fabric.

Peter Shapiro is an independent music and film entrepreneur. He has founded or reinvigorated major venues like Wetlands, The Slipper Room, Brooklyn Bowl, and The Capitol Theater. He is also the publisher of Relix magazine. Shapiro has produced many ground-breaking projects, including the IMAX concert films U23D and All Access; the annual Jammys awards show; the Green Apple Festival; the Great GoogaMooga, and Central Park Jazz & Colors Festival. He is a member of the Arts Committee of the City Parks Foundation’s Board of Directors, is a co-founder of the environmental consulting firm, GreenOrder, and is a board member of Headcount, Central Park SummerStage, The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and New York Public Radio.

Josh Sirefman Josh Sirefman is Chief Development Officer for Sidewalk Labs, and has spent his career at the forefront of the planning, negotiation and implementation of complex growth and development strategies across the public and private sectors. As founder and President of Sirefman Ventures, he led transformative development projects for a range of corporate, nonprofit and government entities. Sirefman was previously Senior Vice President for US Properties at Brookfield Properties. He is the former President of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, and previously served as the Chief of Staff to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, as well as serving as Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Rebuilding. He currently serves on the boards of the Fist and Heel Dance Company, New York Restoration Project, and Spaceworks. He holds a BA from Wesleyan and Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan.

Marquise Stillwell is a partner at social impact investment and design consultancy Openbox. As an entrepreneur, Stillwell started Concept Management Group, a design shop that managed and invested in innovative projects, and Blue Macaroni ventures, which focused primarily on real estate development. Corporate experience includes BMW North America, Wells Fargo, Fiserv, and Qwest. He also serves on the board of the Andrew Goodman Foundation. Stillwell holds an MA in Economics from the University of Denver, an MBA from Grand Canyon University and a BA from The Ohio State University.

Willy Wilson is the founder of Wilson Williams LLC, a boutique transactional law firm with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Previously, Willy was a partner at Wilmer Hale LLP. Willy has broad international experience, having handled legal matters in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and South America. He lived in Hong Kong for over 11 years. He is on various non-profit boards: Friends Non-Profit Housing Inc., Parent Encouragement Program Inc., and Music for our Young Ltd. Willy is a member of the Council on International Affairs of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and is the Chair of the bar’s Task Force on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges.

Community Advisory Board

Dominic Berg, Lowline Task Force member, local resident
Rabbi Aviad Bodner, Stanton Street Shul
David Bolotsky, Friends of Gulick Park
Huy Bui, An Choi and Plant-in City
Thanh Bui, Grand Street Settlement
Simon Chiew, Chinese-American Planning Council
Scott Conti, New Design High School
Talia DeRogatis, Henry Street Settlement
Alison Fleminger, University Settlement
Trever Holland, Lowline Task Force member, Two Bridges Tenant Association
Linda Jones, local resident
Meghan Joye, Lowline Task Force member, local resident, business owner
Sue Lalchan, Grand Street Settlement
Tim Laughlin, Lower East Side Partnership
Brett and Ella Leitner, local residents
Shantelena Mouzon, Parent of Young Designers Program student
Anchael Ng, local resident
Carmen Orta, Seward Park Extension
Nancy Ortiz, Vladeck Houses
Daisy Paez, Lowline Task Force member, local resident
Victoria Reichelt, local resident
Anne Saxelby, Essex Street Market
Risa Shoup, Fourth Arts Block
Carolyn Sickles, Henry Street Settlement and Abrons Art Center
Marquise Stillwell, Lowline Board Member
Nadia Tykulsker, Fourth Arts Block
Alan Van Capelle, Educational Alliance
Jodi Waynberg, Artists Alliance
Thomas Yu, Asian Americans for Equality