Retail isn’t only part of Center City's rebound from COVID-19: Report

Sales revenues, business vacancies and housing rates are all nearing pre-pandemic levels

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The latest Center City District retail report indicates that the economic recovery of that area of Philadelphia since the height of the pandemic seems to be trending in a positive direction, and it's happening on multiple levels.

Center City District President and CEO Paul Levy said their latest report shows that taxable retail sales revenues in Philadelphia’s downtown area between Vine and Pine Streets are at 94% of pre-pandemic levels. They’re up to 121% in the city’s adjacent neighborhoods.

“From the overall city point of view, while there may be a dip in Center City, those revenues are being picked up someplace else,” Levy said.

He also said Philadelphia has a strong housing market.

“When you talk to everybody who is leasing new apartment buildings, the demand is incredibly strong [with] occupancies north of 95% in those buildings, [and] home sales are holding up,” said Levy. “While there's a lot of reported anxiety — there's tremendous uncertainty out there in the country — Philadelphia is holding up generally very well.”

He added that the number of average daily pedestrians in Center City had reached 346,833 by mid-June, about 84% of pre-pandemic levels.

Office building occupancy is the one area that has been slow to recover in Philadelphia. Current occupancy levels are hovering at about 50% of pre-pandemic occupancy by the district’s 146,000 office workers, as some companies adhere to the new hybrid work model.

“The most tentative, as we're seeing across the country, is office workers coming back at a slower rate,” Levy said.

Levy said, however, that the district’s vacancy rate is trending closer to its pre-pandemic levels.

“In 2019, we had about an 11% vacancy rate in Center City. In June of 2020, the vacancy rates spiked to 45%. What our survey is showing is we're down to a 20% vacancy rate,” said Levy.

On the downside, he said crime levels and the trend of employees working from home have slowed the COVID-19 economic bounce-back.

“I think the challenges we're dealing with are the legitimate concerns about public safety which we and the City are addressing," said Levy. "People got in the habit of not coming to work."

But he said overall, barring any new COVID-19 variants emerging, the city is trending in the right direction.

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