Tampa's downtown is still struggling to recover from pandemic
Why it matters: Even as Florida stayed notoriously open during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, downtowns became ghost towns while people sought to "flatten the curve" by staying home as much as possible.
- As the pandemic ebbs, the era of remote and hybrid work it ushered in has so far meant fewer downtown workers visiting restaurants, bars and shops.
- That has big implications for city economies, which have historically relied on commuting workers who spend money before, during and after their daily 9-5s.
The big picture: 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.
Zoom in: Mobile device activity in downtown Tampa was 84% of what it was pre-pandemic, ranking 10th out of 63 metro areas in the nation.
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 (the most recent data available), as measured by estimated foot traffic.
- San Francisco (32%); St. Louis (38%); and Portland, Oregon (40%) have among the lowest.
How it works: The researchers treated smartphones and other mobile devices as a proxy for their owners — if a device pings a nearby cell tower, it's a good bet that's where the device's owner is.
- Of note: For this analysis, "downtown" is defined as areas of a given city with the highest employment density.
Yes, but: Businesses and political leaders are increasingly trying to curtail remote and hybrid work, which could boost downtown recovery levels.
What's next: Many cities are experimenting with efforts to rethink their downtown neighborhoods — including, most notably, office-to-residential building conversions, which are poised to skyrocket in the coming years.
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