The boards of the Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Lafayette Unlimited announced in a news release today that Nathan Norris will step down as CEO of the organizations effective Jan. 1, at which time he will accept an undisclosed position that will allow him to remain in the community.
Through the end of the year, Norris will focus on the organizations' ongoing initiatives and assist in the transition, according to the release. The urban planner has served as CEO since early 2013, having been hired to replace Cathy Webre, who retired at the end of 2012 after 26 years with the organizations.
No replacement for Norris has been named, and the search process has not yet been finalized.
Norris, while acknowledging he has had detractors over the years, insists he was not forced out of the organization. "There certainly have been critics of me on how I've handled certain issues, which is fine," Norris tells ABiz. "[But] what I'm about to do is my dream job."
Norris says he is not at liberty to disclose where he will be working at this time but says it is a new position within the unnamed organization. "It's somewhat like a startup. It's a nonprofit," he says. The job will require a fair amount of travel, he says, but Lafayette will be his home base.
Norris says the major criticism he has faced came from people who have been hoping to see more Downtown development. "I think people want to see construction," he says. "There are multiple root cases for [the absence of development]," he adds, citing as an example a lack of community and government consensus on large tracts like the old federal courthouse. He insists the biggest impediment to development continues to be parking infrastructure, noting that cities like Baton Rouge have done a much better job re-developing their downtowns because they have invested in parking.
Norris says he is especially proud that under his watch a Downtown Action Plan was created, the first in 25 years. The related Downtown Zoning Code, part of the Unified Development Code, won a national award, as did the Creativity Everywhere program. Additionally, the redevelopment of Congress Street is well underway, and in November a series of new ordinances that address everything from Downtown security to noise and parking, issues that have festered for a decade, will go before the City-Parish Council for discussion and approval.
While Norris insists he was not pressured to leave, others with knowledge of the strained relationship he has had with certain factions of the community tell ABiz his job with DDA was not secure.
"Anybody in a public position is going to have their critics," DDA Board Chairman Pat Trahan acknowledges, but says Norris "chose to take this opportunity."
When asked if Norris would still be at DDA come Jan. 1 if he had not accepted the new position, Trahan pauses before saying he was being asked to speculate and could not do that.
"I think Nathan's done a great job in a lot of areas," says the board chair, who will lead the search for Norris' replacement. "He's raised awareness for what good urbanism is. ... Now we need some more development. All of us wish we could snap our fingers, [but] we need a lot of things lining up."