Despite many empty downtown offices, visits are common as far as downtown Salt Lake City.

Remote work is keeping office vacancy rates high, yet visits to the heart of the city are rising above pre-pandemic levels.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People enjoy an evening in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. A study shows visits to the heart of Salt Lake City have exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Signs that the pandemic-driven shift to hybrid working won’t be over anytime soon, if ever, are easy to spot across downtown Salt Lake City.

On any given day of the week, one in three office workers who commuted to the central business district at the end of 2019 are now working remotely instead, pushing the number of commercial office job vacancies to new highs.

A report published Monday by The Salt Lake Tribune found that the vacancy rate for nearly 12.4 million square feet of available office space throughout downtown is about 25%, compounded by widespread subletting and a slowdown in new office building construction.

In parts of Salt Lake County, that number has risen to 30% and 50%, respectively, as major employers offer space for subleases or sales and some industries are laying off workers. Combined with rate hikes and widespread economic uncertainty, the deepening downturn in the office sector, with all the empty cubicles and meeting spaces in Salt Lake City and other urban areas across North America, could take years to mend, real estate agents say.

Still, the heart of Utah’s capital proves to be distinctly different from other downtown areas in other important respects.

An ongoing geolocation study in 62 U.S. and Canadian cities shows that between December and February, regular visits to a range of downtown attractions — from businesses, shops, and offices to attractions, parks, and community centers — accounted for 139% of their original value. pandemic level.

Based on data from 18 million smartphones, analysis by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows that no other large or medium-sized city in North America performed better over this three-month period.

The analysis found that only Salt Lake City and four other locations had central business districts that exceeded pre-pandemic levels in attendance: Bakersfield, California, at 118%; Fresno, California at 115%; Columbus, Ohio at 109%; and El Paso, Texas, at 106%.

First published in June 2022, the ongoing study on inner-city visitation patterns concludes that short commute times and the presence of jobs in key sectors such as hospitality, food service, healthcare and construction are common characteristics of cities with recovering inner-city areas.

“We have typically viewed downtown as a neighborhood for office workers,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Chamber’s Downtown Alliance. “And what you see is that the majority of the visits are from people outside of the region.”

The influx of new residents into the capital is also boosting visitor numbers, Brewer said. The number of people living in the city center is expected to double to 10,000 in just two years.

Justin Scaccy

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