A Fresh Perspective

During its almost 50-year history, few, if any, years have been as transformative for the Downtown Development District of New Orleans as this past year, which included turnover in four of the organization’s five top executive roles. Who are Downtown’s new champions and what are their goals for the future of the city?

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Ask what New Orleans needs to be a successful, world-class destination for residents and visitors, and you’re likely to get a range of responses from lifetime locals, transplants, expatriates and visitors. But for a handful of New Orleanians, they not only get to propose ideas that could transform the city, they also work to implement them.

The Downtown Development District of New Orleans (DDD) is an assessment-based business improvement district (BID) with a mission to “drive the development of Downtown New Orleans and be the catalyst for a prosperous, stimulating, innovative heart of the Crescent City.”


 

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Created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1974 as the nation’s first BID, the DDD services the area bounded by Iberville Street, the Pontchartrain Expressway, Claiborne Avenue and the Mississippi River and includes the Central Business District, Caesars Superdome and Smoothie King Arena, the Warehouse District, Canal Street and part of the French Quarter.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been an explosion of activity Downtown, including new apartments and condominiums, expanded museums, new hotels, renovated theaters, unprecedented retail expansion, and a revitalized Superdome and convention center. The DDD has invested $6.5 billion since 2005 and has seen its year-over-year operating revenues increase 16.65% from $7.34 million in 2021 to $8.55 million in 2022.

The organization has undergone many changes in the past year, including turnover in four of its top five executive positions. With new leadership has come a renewed focus on improving economic development, cleaning and safety in the Downtown area in hopes that it can be a catalyst for improving the entire city.

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The DDD has a romantic vision for what the city could be: “Downtown New Orleans will be celebrated as the vibrant hub of America’s beloved city and the engine for the region’s economy. Historic and contemporary buildings glow with new residences and retail as streets bustle with neighbors and visitors alike participating in the arts, music, dining, shopping and daily business of downtown. People from around the world are drawn to a dynamic, seductive Downtown where the unique cultural mosaic of New Orleans comes into focus.”

Davon Barbour, the DDD’s president and CEO, joined the organization in January. He said he envisions “a world-class Downtown that leverages its assets to create prosperity in New Orleans.”

“We are focused mainly on growing the economy,” Barbour said. “We want Downtown to be a magnet for a population involved in industries of the mind, such as biosciences, the arts and digital media. Tourism certainly has been the bedrock for New Orleans’ economy, but we think there’s a real opportunity to grow our economy by leveraging emerging industries of the future, particularly healthcare and life sciences technology. The biomedical district within Downtown is a priority focus for us. We’ve got incredible assets throughout Downtown. That’s something that’s really exciting to me.”

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While headline-making economic development is the goal, Barbour said he measures success by how the organization impacts small businesses, the backbone of the economy.

“Success, at the end of the day, is when someone is saying, ‘I opened a business in New Orleans and received stellar services’ or ‘I moved Downtown, and it’s been great. The DDD, the city — they were great to work with. They’re an incredible partner.’ That’s successful.”

To get there, he says the DDD is taking a renewed focus on fighting crime and blight to create an environment that is safe and attractive.

“It’s important to address the challenges so that we can maximize the opportunities,” he said. “We certainly understand that curb appeal is important. We’re making sure that we’re directing resources to tackle some of those impediments, because at the end of the day, we want people to be excited to be here. We don’t want tourists and businesses turned away by unsightly conditions, such as graffiti or crime. We have many programs to help our property owners. We have a solid track record, and we’re looking forward to growing these programs and deploying more resources.”

Biz New Orleans held a Q&A with each executive to learn more about their role with the DDD and their vision for New Orleans’ future.

 


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DAVON BARBOUR

President & CEO

What work have you done that prepared you for your role with the DDD?
My entire career has been dedicated to improving quality of life and economic vitality in urban communities. Of relevance to New Orleans, I have led economic development in major tourism markets including Miami, Orlando and Hollywood.

What is your role with the DDD?
While my title is president and CEO, I’m really the biggest cheerleader for Downtown. I work with the public and private sector to untap our city’s great potential.

What attracted you to New Orleans?
I grew up in Baltimore, a city that shares similar socioeconomic challenges with New Orleans. Despite current challenges, New Orleans is an ideal location for economic growth that benefits all residents.

What was your opinion of New Orleans before you arrived?
I perceived the city as a place of “fun.” I have been an economic development practitioner for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, the city’s name did not appear among the ranks of other traditional business centers for corporate site selectors in a sustained manner.

After?
I have enjoyed learning more about the community. One lesson that was so enlightening was the discovery of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East. I had no idea that rockets were made here. As our friends at New Orleans Business Alliance say, “Come for the culture. Stay for the commerce.” We are so much more than fun.

What would you say if you were to give a “state of the city” address?
A key theme of my state of Downtown address is conveying the pillars for achieving economic development success in our community: 1) ensuring a safe environment, 2) providing an attractive realm, and 3) delivering consistent and reliable infrastructure. Achieving confidence in these pillars is paramount to attracting and sustaining investment in Downtown.

What strengths and opportunities does Downtown New Orleans have?
One of the biggest strengths is the residents and businesses who believe in it and only want its best. We must be willing to acknowledge what is not working and develop solutions that address these destabilizing influences in collaboration with these stakeholders.

I remain very bullish on the future of the biomedical district. “Eds and meds” is an economic development strategy based on leveraging higher education institutions and healthcare. Downtown is fortunate to be home to the New Orleans Bio Innovation Center, Tulane medical campus, Tulane Innovation Institute and more.

What weaknesses and threats does the area face?
I think our greatest threat is ourselves. We must fundamentally recognize that as a community we are competing for talent and must adapt accordingly. Great cities do not come to fruition by happenstance. They result from bold vision, sound public policy and accountability.

Where do you hope to see the city in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to experience a city with improved neighborhood connectivity. In the future, residents and visitors alike will experience a seamless journey characterized by thriving neighborhood retail commercial corridors, attractive public spaces, and a robust transit network that strengthens connections to employment centers throughout the region.

20?
In 20 years, New Orleans is a highly sought residential and business address. We are a city that supported its residents to create new companies that helped address community challenges. We are a city that embraced mixed-income housing that reflects the rich cultural diversity of our past.

What does the city need to have in place to get there?
Ongoing public/private partnerships; clear, economic-development-focused public policy, and a responsive business/regulatory climate.

 


 

Anthony G. Carter

Director of Finance & Administration

With four of the top five positions at the DDD held by relative newcomers, how does it feel to be the “veteran” of the team?
It has been a unique experience. As some are also new to New Orleans, one of my responsibilities is to assure that they are aware of the culture of New Orleans.

How has the DDD changed in your time with the organization?
The DDD has changed in very significant ways over the last 15-plus years. When I first arrived, we were still in the early stages of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. We have since gotten past recovery and moved into a growth mode.

What does the addition of new leaders bring to the DDD?
It has brought new ideas and new energy. The new leaders bring different experiences and how other BIDs have resolved similar situations.

What does the city need to have in place to succeed?
We will need much more emphasis on workforce development, quality education and opportunities for our youth and underserved population.

 


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T. Trent Dang

Director of Marketing & Communications

What work have you done that prepared you for your role with the DDD?
I started my professional career as an opening team member at Harrah’s New Orleans in 1999 and have loved spending time Downtown ever since! I have worked my way up the ranks of various marketing teams since then, including managing the marketing departments of the Fair Grounds.

What attracted you to New Orleans?
I grew up in Bossier City but have had family and friends in New Orleans all my life. My grandmother worked at the Katz & Besthoff on Canal Street and their offices on Camp Street, so you could say Downtown even has a place in our family’s history!

What strengths and opportunities does Downtown New Orleans have?
Downtown is one of the few places in New Orleans where you can work, live and play, all within walking distance. Our opportunity is to further that message to make it even more vibrant than it already is.

What weaknesses and threats does the area face?
We need to diversify our industry base. We need to invest more time and money to help those in need. Turning a blind eye or simply complaining about things is not going to make them go away.

Where do you hope to see the city in 10 years?
A vibrant city on the brink of greatness, whose NFL team also has 10 more Super Bowl championships.

20?
The great city we all know New Orleans can be, who also has 20 more Super Bowl championships.

What does the city need to have in place to get there?
A solid infrastructure and diversified economy with New Orleanians continuing to believe in their great city.

 


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Darren Harris

Director of Economic Development

What work have you done that prepared you for your role with the DDD?
I previously served as a business development specialist, city planner, senior economic development specialist for the cities of Las Vegas and Cleveland, focused on workforce development, business incubation, retention and expansion.

What is your role with the DDD?
I am responsible for new business development and business retention and expansion. I also lead the advancement of the master planning and implementation, facilitation of public policies, program development and advocacy of the DDD’s agenda.

What attracted you to New Orleans?
The culture and opportunity to make a positive impact and improvement in a city that deserves the investment.

If you were to give a “state of the city” address, what would you say?
New Orleans is a city ready to be “resurrected” for its greatness. It has great bones that are fractured but on the mend.

What strengths and opportunities does Downtown New Orleans have?
New Orleans has numerous anchoring institutions such as universities, healthcare systems and community stakeholders/organizations that we can partner with to continue positive growth and development of the overall city and well-being of its residents and visitors.

What weaknesses and threats does the area face?
Retaining residents and students who attend the local universities here. The goal is to strengthen and create better opportunities for succession with competitive and equitable pay and resources that would assist us with making New Orleans the best city ever.

Where do you hope to see the city in 10 years?
I see the city as a great place to live and work. Everything you need is here in some unique way, we just need to reveal those hidden treasures.

20?
The sky is the limit for New Orleans. It will be a draw for Millennials, Generation X and Z, Baby Boomers, corporate headquarters and entrepreneurs looking for a live/work balance that can be enjoyed day in and day out.

What does the city need to have in place to get there?
The city will have to have equitable changes in politics, education and wages. No longer can it be allowed that the few make changes for the masses without any substantial input.

 


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Hunter Hebert

Director of Operations

What work have you done that prepared you for your role with the DDD?
I started my career in Lafayette as a city planner with Lafayette Consolidated Government, which consisted of zoning compliance inspection and commercial plan reviews. Most recently I held the position of operations manager with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) in Lafayette.

What is your role with the DDD?
I’m tasked with working toward a safe, sanitary and sensational Downtown New Orleans. This includes working with our Public Safety Rangers, Downtown Clean Team, and stakeholders and government organizations on safety and beautification efforts.

What attracted you to New Orleans?
Like many others I couldn’t stay away for too long. So, this is my second time around in New Orleans. I was anxious to move back and be a part of the team working to improve the world-class city we all love.

It has been exciting to move back and see how much development has taken place over the last decade. Much more work had been taking place than I ever realized.

What strengths and opportunities does Downtown New Orleans have?
The strength of the entertainment and hospitality industry has long been the bedrock of local industry. I think we have the opportunity to add another professional sports franchise to the area, preferably a sport with a heavier schedule that can help sustain the local service industry.

What weaknesses and threats does the area face?
Affordable housing is a major challenge. People are spending a greater percentage of their income on rent than ever before.

What does the city need to do to improve?
It is going to take coordination across many public and private entities to get our problems addressed, but I believe the people of New Orleans share these desires and are willing to work toward solutions.

 


 

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