Nathan Norris, the newly minted executive director of Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, addressed about 40 downtown business owners Tuesday evening at Bolt nightclub to offer an overview of his vision for the district — a vision that begins with increasing the downtown’s residential component.
|DDA Executive Director Nathan Norris, center, addresses downtown business owners Tuesday.|
“We don’t have enough people living downtown. If there aren’t enough people living downtown we can’t get other amenities that make downtown living worthwhile. So that’s the No. 1 goal right now,” Norris said. “We have plenty of options for those who want a rural lifestyle in this region — who want to live where you don’t have hear your neighbor or see your neighbor, there are options for you. We have plenty of options for those who want to live in a suburban area. What we don’t have are a lot of options for downtown living.”
Norris was quick to note that a robust downtown population has far-ranging effects on a community, not just on those who chose an urban lifestyle. “This is a regional issue,” he said. “It’s regional because this is really an economic development issue. It’s not about making the downtown prettier. If you’re a business thinking about moving here, you probably have 10 to 15 percent of your workforce that wants a high quality urban lifestyle. And if we’re not providing it here, the answer is I have to go somewhere else to find it.”
The lawyer/urban planner/real estate broker — Norris is featured in this month’s Cool Town issue — laid out three strategies to achieving the goal: maintain popular downtown events like Downtown Alive! and ArtWalk; improve the amenities package to make downtown attractive to developers; and facilitate what he calls “value-enhancing development” — the types of real estate development that encourages nearby property owners to invest in their own property.
“This isn’t about how we grow, how we plan; this is about whether we want to compete for talent, because that’s what businesses are looking at — they care about people, they care about talent,” Norris added. “If they can’t find the talent here they’re going to go elsewhere.”