Davis Rhorer, longtime champion of downtown Baton Rouge, dies of COVID-19

Davis Rhorer, longtime executive director of the Downtown Development District and a tireless advocate for downtown Baton Rouge, has died after a monthlong battle with COVID-19.

In his more than three decades at the DDD, which he headed since its inception, Rhorer, a native of Baton Rouge, oversaw the transformation of downtown from the sleepy historic center of the state capital to a vibrant community that attracted residents and visitors alike as a place to live, work and play.

“He was the spokesman for downtown all these years,” says Capital Area Finance Authority Executive Director Mark Drennen, who worked closely with Rhorer on revitalizing downtown in the 1990s, when Drennan was commissioner of administration. “He was the main cheerleader, the main pusher. He worked well with CPEX, BRAF, the state. He kept things moving.”

Rhorer became executive director of the DDD shortly after the agency’s inception in 1987 and was chiefly responsible for overseeing the implementation of Plan Baton Rouge I and II, which served as blueprints for downtown’s revitalization. In that capacity, he had to work with multiple stakeholder groups and bring many competing interests to the table, which he always managed to do with a smile and a genial nature.

“He respected the plan and implemented it in such an amazing way,” says Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, who worked closely with Rhorer in the 2000s, when she was executive director of the Center for Planning Excellence. “He was determined to make this a success. His determination was amazing.”

Among the transformative projects that took place during Rhorer’s tenure at the DDD were the historic restoration and reopening of the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, expansions to the Raising Cane’s River Center and the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, the establishment of the Shaw Center for the Arts, the development of hundreds of residential units in the downtown area, and the development, funding and implementation of the biking and walking trail on the levee that connects downtown to LSU.

He was also instrumental in managing and overseeing the massive consolidation of state office buildings, which brought more than 3,000 state workers downtown and resulted in the creation of more than 2 million square feet of new class “A” office buildings.

“The impact Davis Rhorer has had on the advancement of Baton Rouge is remarkable and undeniable,” says Bryan Jones, vice president of HNTB Corp. “His lifetime of commitment and determination to push our city to always think bigger and bolder will be forever remembered. We as a community are forever indebted.”

As word spread through Baton Rouge this afternoon about Rhorer’s death, friends and former colleagues remembered a man who not only contributed much for the city but was a kind and generous friend to many.

“I mourn the loss of a very dear friend,” Thomas says. “His tireless effort to take us to the next level has resulted in a phenomenal downtown.”

The news comes on the heels of another big loss for the downtown area, as the death of Eric Carnegie was also announced this week. Carnegie had his hand in numerous businesses including Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar and Bengal Tap Room, among others, as well as the Baton Rouge Oyster Festival and Bandito Festival.

A version of this story originally appeared in a March 9 edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.