Mar 20, 2023 - Real Estate

Downtown Seattle has more residents than ever

The Seattle skyline with the Space Needle at center, shown with a blue sky turning dark.

The sun sets on the Space Needle and the downtown Seattle skyline in 2015. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

A record high 104,000 residents now call downtown Seattle home.

Driving the news: Downtown Seattle, comprising 12 neighborhoods from SODO to South Lake Union, accounts for just over 4% of Seattle's total land area, but is now home to more than 14% of all Seattleites, according to Downtown Seattle Association's (DSA) 2023 economic report.

Why it matters: Downtown Seattle has been slower to recover from the pandemic by some measures than many other U.S. cities. But a diverse and growing residential base could set the stage for a more resilient than ever downtown, DSA spokesperson James Sido told Axios.

By the numbers: Downtown Seattle's resident population has increased by 70% since 2010, according to DSA, and is still trending up. Per the report:

  • Downtown had a record 55,639 occupied apartments last year.
  • In 2022, the top three most populous downtown neighborhoods were Capitol Hill (west of Broadway) with more than 18,200 residents, followed closely by South Lake Union (15,100) and First Hill (14,600).
  • South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle grew the fastest, accounting for nearly 45% of downtown's net residential population increase.

The growth is not fueled by any one demographic.

  • Last year, downtown scored 69.1 on the Esri's Diversity Index, an increase of nearly 15 points since 2010 and five points higher than the rest of Seattle.

Yes, but: Office worker foot traffic reached only 44% in 2022, up from 15% at its pandemic nadir in January 2021. Last month, office worker traffic climbed to 47%, the third straight month of growth in that metric, Sido said.

  • Still, DSA and others recognize that workers may never return to the office for the pre-pandemic norm of an 8-to-5, Monday-through-Friday workweek, he said.
  • Some downtown employers are watching what happens with Amazon, which is mandating that workers return to the office at least three days a week starting May 1, and may follow suit, Sido said.
  • Businesses, meanwhile, see new opportunities in catering to residents.

The big picture: With just under 50% of its square footage devoted to office space, Seattle is better-placed than many peer U.S. cities, according to a New York Times article looking at where offices dominated downtown real estate.

  • Boston and San Francisco, which top the Times' list, come in at 83% and 74% respectively.
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