“Our core message at Downtown Cleveland Alliance is downtown is open for business,” said President and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Michael Deemer. “We estimate about 60% of office workers are back downtown on any given day. That’s up from about 40% any given day this year.”
The August Downtown Cleveland Alliance pandemic recovery report states the national average for office workers returning is below 50%.
Prior to the pandemic, Deemer said the business occupancy rate or lease rate was around 80 to 85%. Those figures held steady during the pandemic. At the time, Deemer said the occupancy rate was measured by the number of businesses in a building, not necessarily how many people worked inside a building.
“Going forward, there may be less demand for office space,” Deemer said.
With the future need for office space in question, Cleveland is in a unique situation. Deemer said the city serves as a national leader in converting unused office space into residential communities, with a track record of adapting 5 million square feet of building space into well over 5,000 apartments.
“Now other cities, they’re thinking ‘Oh, we’re unsure about the future of office work. What’s it going to look like? We need to re-purpose our buildings,'” said Deemer. “Cleveland is one of the places they’re looking to figure out how to go forward.”
He said most of the city’s downtown population growth during the past 15 years is attributed in part to adapting historic buildings into new use, often through housing.
Some downtown workers returning to the office said they were not sure if downtown Cleveland‘s ability to thrive rests on how many employees are back in the office full-time.
“I think it’s important that we’re back downtown working, but I think that slow transition — whether that be a hybrid situation where a couple days you’re in the office, a couple days you’re at home — I think that makes a good balance. Easier for people to return,” said Meghan Dellis.
Deemer said people still want to live and play in downtown Cleveland and with more options on where to work and live, returning to the office is a significant measure of downtown Cleveland‘s comeback.
“We know people have choices about where they’re going to live, where they’re going to work and we want them to choose the experience of downtown Cleveland,” Deemer said. “Pandemic’s been hard on us. It’s been hard on downtown in particular, but it’s a little bit better every day.”