May 9, 2023 - News

Cleveland downtown activity lags pre-COVID pace

Mobile device activity in select downtown areas compared to pre-pandemic levels
Data: University of Toronto; Chart: Axios Visuals

Downtown activity is far from returning to pre-pandemic levels in the Cleveland area.

  • That's according to anonymized mobile device connectivity data analyzed by researchers at the University of Toronto's School of Cities, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Alice Feng report.

Driving the news: From December 2022 to February 2023, Cleveland generated only 44% of the activity it did during the same period in 2019-2020.

  • Cleveland ranked 58th out of 63 cities that researchers measured.

Why it matters: Downtowns, including Cleveland's, became ghost towns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as people sought to "flatten the curve" by staying at home as much as possible.

  • Even as the pandemic ebbs, the new era of remote and hybrid work means fewer people are visiting restaurants, bars and shops.

Zoom out: Downtown activity has returned to — or even exceeded — pre-pandemic rates in a handful of U.S. cities, but most are still struggling to attract the foot traffic they once did.

By the numbers: Salt Lake City (139%); Bakersfield, California (118%) and Fresno, California (115%) had among the country's highest post-pandemic downtown recovery rates, as of February.

  • San Francisco (32%), St. Louis (38%) and Portland, Oregon (40%) had among the lowest.

Zoom in: Cleveland's reduced downtown activity is due primarily to declining office visits, Michael Deemer, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, told last summer.

  • That's reflected in the current vacancy rate for downtown commercial real estate. In the first quarter this year, vacancies in the central business district rose to more than 23%.

Reality check: Although downtown activity is one indicator of a city's economic health, it doesn't paint a full picture on its own.

  • The lure of better, springtime weather, meanwhile, might persuade more people to head back into the city.
  • Dinner and a Guards game, anyone?

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