DDD outlines search plans for a new executive director

Following the death of its longtime executive director one month ago, the Downtown Development District today outlined plans to search for a new leader.

The transition plan was revealed via Zoom this morning, at the DDD’s first public meeting since January and for the first time since the death of Davis Rhorer, who led the organization for 34 years before succumbing to complications from COVID-19 in March.

To fill Rhorer’s position, the board must first name an interim director, but before doing so, it’s awaiting procedural guidance from the parish attorney’s office. In the meantime, DDD Assistant Executive Director Gabe Vicknair is serving as de facto executive director. 

After an interim director is appointed at a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting, the board will conduct a search for someone to occupy the position permanently. A special committee could even be formed to help the board facilitate the search, said board chair Melanie Counce.

“Davis was the first and only director the DDD has had since its inception,” Counce said. “We want to make sure we move forward [in this process] with intention and transparency.”

Today’s meeting began with a video tribute to Rhorer, whose legacy includes the historic restoration and reopening of the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, expansions to the Raising Cane’s River Center and the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, the establishment of the Shaw Center for the Arts, the development of hundreds of residential units in the downtown area, and the funding, development and implementation of the biking and walking trail on the levee that connects downtown to LSU.

“All he wanted was to make downtown Baton Rouge better,” said past board chair Scott Hensgens. “He never sought credit or a pat on the back. He just wanted Baton Rouge to be as good as it could be.”

Tomorrow, the Metro Council will consider a resolution to rename downtown’s City Plaza as “The Davis S. Rhorer Plaza.”

Among other downtown updates:

• Construction on the River Mark Centre, the rebranded Chase South Tower, has begun.

• Some $16.26 million worth of renovations to the River Center Theater are slated for completion by August, while construction on the Cary Saurage Community Arts Center will wrap this summer.

• Key investments that have recently been made downtown include Watson Cohen LLC’s acquisition of the former State National Life Insurance building, Cornelius Quarels’ plans to reopen the former Hound Dogs location as a rooftop bar and lounge, and John Engquist’s purchase of an undeveloped, 1.3-acre riverfront property for $5.68 million.

• Between the Water Campus, Old South and Downtown East areas, there are 770 residential units being developed—including 200 Water Street, which is now leasing units.

• The DDD is working with downtown parking meter vendor FlowBird to determine final quantities for the smart meters, which will have higher rates ($1/ hour) that won’t go into effect until July.

• After bids came back with higher quotes than expected, downtown officials are repackaging their proposals for phases II and III of Riverfront Plaza, including moving the proposed River Road pedestrian crossing to a later phase, and hope to re-bid in the next couple of weeks.