The economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Seattle

KUOW Newsroom
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Cast your mind back. I remember talking with you soon after the pandemic started. And you were describing looking out of your window and seeing hardly anybody on the street where what. He's seeing right now today. Well we have more activity than that there. There are some office. Workers are back that are back of course essential workers. There are things that are open today that we're not open a month ago. Museums like the seattle art museum and wing luke The pike place market has been just a great bright spot through all of this. They've never closed. They've had to adjust plenty. So that's a note of activity and usually it's a lot of tourists there. It's mostly locals that are coming from other neighborhoods in seattle downtown. So there's activity downtown. But we sure want more genders more activity but still i mean. The pandemic did take a major toll on downtown businesses. Can you give us a nutshell. Just what happened over the last year. Yes we all know. Downtowns are all about bringing people together and in a pandemic to stay apart for good reason so this pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on urban areas in our country and downtown seattle. Certainly and so. We've had one hundred sixty small businesses that have permanently closer restaurants and retailers office. Occupancy has been below twenty percent over the last couple of months of folks who are showing up at least a few days in their office during the week. Hotel occupancy is still hovering at twenty percent or below in some weeks and our major venues arts culture performance live music venues have have been shuttered for the most part throughout this period so this has been devastating economically to our downtown into downtown's across the country because when you're all about bringing people together a pandemic has significant impact on on how you function and that's what we've seen john. We are still dealing with this pandemic. we haven't turned a corner quite yet but it does seem that most adults who want a vaccine will be able to get one in the next few months. What could that mean for. The future of downtown really is a game changer and we. We have such a clear line of sight on the pace of vaccinations and win. A majority of adults in our community are going to be vaccinated because of the recent approval of the johnson and johnson vaccine. So it's going to allow office workers to return at some level here Early in the summer late spring. We're talking to employers and companies that are that are making those plans now and it's going allow for leisure travel to resume at higher levels throughout our country in seattle can compete really well for the domestic leisure travel business which we believe is going to be sort of the first type travel to return likely before business travel and likely before international travel. People are dying to get out. We want him to come to seattle so office. Workers in leisure travelers and the seattle. That maybe hasn't been downtown in the last year. We want to invite them back. There's plenty of that is open today and more to come. So that's where we're focused. Some folks are speculating. That this pandemic has forever changed. The nature of work and that many employees may simply work from home indefinitely which could mean way fewer people shopping and dining downtown. Are you worried about that potential shift. I do believe the office and work does get recalibrated but the office isn't going away by any means but it mean that some folks might work from home owners days a week. That's generally what the research in surveys. Both in our own community around the country are saying so. The office in the downtown still has an important role to play. When it comes to work and collaboration in shaping a company an organization's culture i do think it gets a re recalibrated doubt. So recalibrate it. If you've got fewer workers around who else possibly could be drawn down to the core to to kind of make up for the for the flow of energy that used to be there. We'll we're investing still record levels in in housing in downtown so more than seven thousand. Units of housing are currently under construction. Were connecting our city to downtown in ways that are going to help people to take a train from northgate in just a few months. That comes every couple of minutes right into downtown. So there's there's new ways to get downtown. We're significantly in housing. And then we're investing in generational infrastructure projects like the waterfront park and a great new arena seattle center. So there's going to be new things to see inexperienced downtown that weren't here prior to this pandemic and there's going to be lots of new businesses that come in into spaces that were vacated by businesses that had to close through this pandemic so this plenty to look forward to new investments new experiences that we're not here prior to this pandemic and we want to celebrate those in addition to everybody that made it through this pandemic and that's able to reopen. Is there a scenario where you might see that. The downtown doesn't recover. And what would that look like. And what would that mean. There's a lot at risk here. And i don't think we can take anything for granted and every great city has a great downtown. I haven't been to a great city without a thriving core in as a as a city here in seattle in a community. We we've made a big bet on a healthy thriving downtown. We've passed many levies to invest in families and education universal pre-k low income housing and a great park system that is betting on a healthy economically. Vital downtown so we have a lot at stake on what happens on these three square miles of land for the entire city and really the entire region. So we've got to get this writing. We can take nothing for granted.

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