Sep 1, 2023 - News

Downtown San Antonio's post-COVID comeback could be on the horizon

Downtown San Antonio foot traffic recovery
Data: University of Toronto; Note: Seasons are March-May (spring), June-August (summer), September-November (fall) and December-February (winter); Visitors determined by counting unique mobile phones in ZIP codes with high employee density; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Downtown San Antonio's foot traffic still lags behind pre-pandemic levels but it's recovered better than most major North American cities.

Why it matters: Downtowns are typically the beating economic heart of a city, funneling revenue into city coffers via taxes and more.

  • More fundamentally, downtowns are the spiritual core of a given city. If a city's downtown is (or is perceived to be) flailing, that tends to dictate the city's overall vibes.

State of play: From March to May, downtown San Antonio saw 67% of the foot traffic it had during that period in 2019, according to a study from the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.

  • The study's methodology used anonymized cellphone activity to determine the number of unique visitors to the downtown area.

The big picture: San Antonio had the 25th-best recovery rate of the 62 U.S. and Canadian cities analyzed in the study.

  • El Paso (4) and Fort Worth (22) were the only other Texas cities that ranked higher.

Between the lines: Several cities with diverse downtowns — meaning, a healthy mixture of office space, housing, attractions and so on — have nearly returned to (or even exceeded) their pre-pandemic foot traffic rates.

  • Salt Lake City's post-pandemic foot traffic rate — nearly 140%, meaning it's grown even beyond 2019 levels — is particularly remarkable.

Meanwhile, New York mirrors San Antonio's recovery at 67%.

By the numbers: Downtown San Antonio has an economic impact of $19 billion as of 2021, according to a study released by Centro San Antonio last week.

  • Downtown is expected to grow by 18,500 new housing units and 43,600 new jobs by 2040, according to the study.

What they're saying: "Great cities have great downtowns and San Antonio's is the center of civic, cultural, and historic life in the region. This study underscores that continuing to invest in the downtown area is essential to the city's overall future success," Centro San Antonio CEO Trish DeBerry said in a statement.

What we're watching: If the San Antonio Spurs and San Antonio Missions move downtown.

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