Apr 26, 2024 - News

Downtown Raleigh gains momentum

Change in downtown visitor activity levels from March 2023 to February 2024
Data: University of Toronto; Note: Downtown defined as the central location with the highest concentration of employment in each metro area; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Downtown Raleigh has seen a welcome bump in foot traffic in the past year, according to new cell phone tracking data from the University of Toronto.

Why it matters: Raleigh's downtown area has struggled to recover to prepandemic foot traffic levels due, in part, to remote work trends emptying out offices.

Driving the news: The new cell phone data shows that foot traffic in March 2024 was up 19.9% compared to March 2023.

  • That was the 13th-largest year-over-year increase among U.S. cities.

What they're saying: Weekend crowds in downtown Raleigh are above prepandemic levels, said Bill King, head of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Downtown has seen a net positive of new businesses and apartments opening, plus lots of weekend events, he noted.

  • While the number of office workers downtown has inched up, it's still influenced by hybrid work and below 2019 rates, he added.

How it works: Researchers at the University of Toronto's School of Cities are using anonymized mobile device location data to estimate visitor activity in the downtown areas of dozens of North American cities.

  • They define "downtown" as the location in each metro area with the highest job concentration.

Between the lines: Many cities with relatively high recovery rates over this latest period had struggled in past years.

  • "In other words, their recovery may now be converging with the downtowns that largely recovered in 2023," the researchers write.
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