Jul 19, 2023 - News

Downtown Seattle activity is up since Amazon workers' return

An image of the Amazon Spheres with skyscrapers in the background.

Corporate office buildings rise above The Spheres at the Amazon.com Inc. headquarters in Seattle. Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

Foot traffic and credit card transactions rose significantly in several Seattle neighborhoods in May, the month that Amazon's return-to-office policy took effect, according to an Amazon analysis released Wednesday.

Why it matters: Seattle's downtown has been slower to bounce back from the pandemic than many major U.S. cities. News that the tech giant was recalling workers to the office was hailed as "music to the ears"of city leaders.

Driving the news: In South Lake Union (SLU) and the Denny Regrade — the two neighborhoods where most of Amazon's 65,000 Puget Sound-area employees work — the Amazon analysis showed significant weekly foot traffic increases during this past May over previous years.

  • In South Lake Union, the total estimated weekly foot traffic rose to 457,000 — an 82% increase over the average for May in 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to the data.
  • The Denny Regrade saw a 56% increase in May over the average of 433,000 in the three previous years.
  • To measure foot traffic, analysts used anonymized cell phone mobility data from Mapbox and Placer.ai, Amazon spokesperson Zach Goldsztejn told Axios.

Plus: The Downtown Seattle Association reported that worker foot traffic in the city's 12 downtown-area neighborhoods climbed in June to 54% of 2019 levels, the highest percentage since the pandemic began.

  • And, while the increase cannot be tied definitively to Amazon's policy, Sound Transit reports transit ridership has been climbing all year.

By the numbers: While the Amazon data does not break down the specific number of recorded transactions, it shows that in SLU, restaurants saw an 86% increase in credit card transactions and a 92% increase in hotel transactions.

  • In the Regrade, restaurants and hotels saw increases of 109% and 101% respectively.
  • Amazon alone booked 26,500 hotel nights in Seattle this May, an increase of more than 130%, Goldsztejn said.

What they're saying: "Downtown is the heart of Seattle and is powered by people — workers, neighbors, families, and visitors alike — all of whom help to increase foot traffic, support our local businesses, and add to the vibrancy of our downtown neighborhoods," Mayor Bruce Harrell told Axios.

  • Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who chairs the council's economic development committee, added that without "a critical mass" of workers returning to the office, "downtown cannot fully recover."

Yes, but: When Amazon announced that workers would be required to return to the office on May 1, 30,000 employees worldwide reportedly signed a petition opposing the mandate and hundreds later walked away from their jobs temporarily in protest.

What we're watching: Whether office vacancy in Seattle's downtown and business core, currently more than double what it was in 2019, will ever fall back to pre-pandemic levels.


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