The only person to have ever served at the helm of the Downtown Development Authority, Executive Director Cathy Webre, is retiring at the end of the year. Webre made the announcement to DDA board members and staff on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.
News of Webre’s retirement caught some in the downtown community by surprise, but she says she’s been mulling stepping down for at least a year. “I’ve been planning this for some time,” says Webre, who adds she will fill her newfound free time with travel and volunteering in the community.
Webre was a planning employee in the city of Lafayette’s Community Development Department under then-Director Phil Lank in the mid-1980s when the Downtown Development Authority was created. At the time, downtown Lafayette had fallen under the spell of decay as businesses abandoned the old city center and followed the money to the suburbs. Jefferson Street was a one-way running north between Lee Avenue and Cypress Street and, save for a couple of night clubs and stalwart restaurants Don’s Seafood & Steakhouse and Dwyer’s Café, downtown Lafayette barely registered a pulse after sunset.
Webre moved from Community Development to become executive director of the newly created DDA in 1986. By 1993 the state Legislature created a taxing district downtown that bankrolled DDA’s operations. (Funding for DDA salaries and projects theretofore came via grants obtained by the city’s Community Development Department.) Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, a private, nonprofit offshoot of DDA that administers events like Downtown Alive! and ArtWalk, was also created and downtown Lafayette began its return from the cultural and economic doldrums that befell it with oil bust that gripped Lafayette throughout much of the ’80s.
DDA’s mission has largely focused on planning and development of the downtown area, and with the advent of StreetScape in the late 1990s and the return of business investment and the rebirth of downtown as a go-to evening destination, downtown Lafayette is once again a cultural centerpiece.
“It’s been a labor of love over a lot of years,” Webre says wistfully.
Webre says the DDA board will likely conduct a regional search for her replacement through the International Downtown Association and other channels.
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