Is Downtown Raleigh poised for a post-pandemic comeback? New report says city is ready.

·3 min read

The downtown core of Raleigh isn’t out of the water economically from the pandemic, but it has what it needs to progress as one of the nation’s fastest-growing metro areas, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

In the annual 2021 State of Downtown Raleigh report, released last week, the organization offers a wide-sweeping look at various sectors and traits of downtown: current developments, walkability, transit, the hospitality industry, bars and restaurants, retail, residential and commercial real estate and their respective growth prospects.

As indicated in the DRA’s recent downtown Raleigh performance report for the second quarter of 2021, downtown has begun to bounce back, particularly in real estate: 37 new businesses opening or expanding this year so far and more office space leased rather than vacated.

Pedestrian traffic has been up this summer, and food and beverage sales rose close to pre-pandemic levels this summer as vaccinations increased this past spring, DRA president Bill King said in an interview.

“The report shows downtown’s unique competitive edges, how downtown is positioned for the future and also shows positive trends back towards growth and a healthier downtown economy but balances that with acknowledgment that we aren’t fully back to normal downtown and have had an uneven recovery with work still to be done,” King said.

The alliance surveyed downtown office employees, of which 85% expect they will primarily work in person in November.

King noted economic recovery hasn’t been equal across downtown’s sectors. For example, the bar and restaurant-heavy Glenwood South district has outdone its previous sales activity, while the Fayetteville Street corridor hasn’t, as many of its office workers have yet to return for good.

Residential, office projects planned

For a downtown with $4.9 billion in developments completed and proposed since 2015, it is “well-positioned” to continue attracting new residents, King said.

There are over 20 miles of Bus Rapid Transit routes planned and 322 acres of park space being added to the downtown area through Dorothea Dix Park and Devereux Meadow.

There have been 8,453 residential units recently completed, under construction, or planned since 2015. That includes 3,451 units completed since the start of 2015 and 322 units under construction.

A noteworthy metric in real estate is the 96.1% residential occupancy in downtown Raleigh, which not only has been good in the pandemic but has been beyond that time frame, King said. Around 4,680 new housing units are currently planned or proposed for downtown and 786 new units were completed since the start of 2020.

The report notes that when projects under construction and proposed are built, that will equate to over 7,500 new downtown residents.

In addition to over 88,000 square feet of office space leased in the second quarter of this year, there is 1.6 billion square feet of office space planned or proposed.

Since 2015, in completed and planned real estate, approximately 15,500 employees are represented by 3.5 million square feet of office space. There are 209 new stores and restaurants represented by the 732,000 square feet of retail space, and 578,000 more overnight stays are represented by 2,102 new hotel rooms.

“The report shows positive trends for future but isn’t all sunshine about the recent past and acknowledges work still to be done,” said King, who added that the report is promising enough to hand out to companies curious about expanding to Raleigh.

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