Downtown Development hires urban designer

The Downtown Development Authority hopes to jump start the redevelopment of long-vacant parcels with the help of an urban design leader set to fill a newly created “Director of Design” position next month.

Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris referred to Geoff Dyer as a “rock star” of the urban design world, and Norris has pieced together funding from the Downtown Development Authority, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority for Dyer’s $100,000 annual salary.

“We (DDA) didn’t have the funds to get that caliber of person,” Norris said Tuesday in making a pitch to the financing authority for a pledge of up to $30,000 for a share of the salary.

The financial authority signed off on the deal, and Norris said Dyer, who has worked across the continent on major urban design projects, is relocating from Canada and will start here Aug. 1.

Norris described the new job that Dyer will fill as a “concierge for the development community” and a mediator between government and private interests.

“The whole point is to speed redevelopment,” Norris said.

Norris, who took the helm at DDA in January, said he and Dyer will seek out a few big “catalyst” projects involving large pieces of downtown real estate that have been dormant for years.

The DDA has identified five large parcels for early redevelopment efforts, including the old federal courthouse that now sits vacant at Main and Jefferson streets.

Norris said the big chunks of unused downtown property have likely remained idle because no one can envision a viable redevelopment plan.

Working with property owners, government officials and others to develop that vision will be one of Dyer’s essential roles, Norris said.

“We want to be able to provide those free conceptual design services,” Norris said.

The old federal courthouse and two adjacent city-owned buildings that are also empty occupy one of the largest pieces of unused real estate in downtown Lafayette, filling almost an entire city block.

The four-story courthouse has been empty for a decade, with the exception of a few city-parish employees who worked out of a small office on the first floor until 2009.

City-parish government bought the building from the federal government in 2001 for $800,000 after the completion of the new federal courthouse a few blocks away on Lafayette Street.

Early plans to renovate the old courthouse for office space fell through because of the expense.

Another plan three years ago to demolish the building to clear the way for private development also fell through after some City-Parish Council members questioned whether the property should not be reserved for a new parish courthouse, although there is no current plan or money for that project.

“There is certainly interest in redeveloping that site,” said City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, who referred to the property as a “showcase” corner in downtown Lafayette.

“Something needs to happen with the building,” he said.