Vaccine news gives some DC business leaders hope for the future

As several businesses try to remain afloat, business leaders hope things will take a turn for the better with the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine.

From the pandemic to protests, business activity in downtown D.C. took a nose-dive for many shops, hotels and arts venues.

“The vaccine is the ultimate driver here,” said Chris Mundy, head of U.S. Office at Oxford Properties, which oversees locations such as Gallery Place.

With news last week that drugmaker Pfizer is ready to begin distributing a vaccine, more business leaders are willing to predict what the future may bring.

Mundy said he hopes for business activity levels to return to 2019 numbers by late 2021 at the earliest.

Meade Atkinson, general manager of W Hotel, believes the timetable for the hotel’s recovery could be faster.

“Prior to Pfizer’s announcement, I would say it was a real educated guess,” said Atkinson during a virtual discussion on the area’s economy hosted by the Downtown Business Improvement District

Although D.C. currently ranks with Hawaii as having the worst hotel occupancy rates in the nation, Atkinson said he feels the new year will bring the industry back into the right direction.

“There just may be some hotels, mine for instance, that may have occupancies that look normal by Q4 by fall,” Atkinson said.

The Knightsbridge Restaurant Group had to close some restaurants, including the Oval Room,  this year. Ashok Bajaj, president and owner of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, said that for his remaining restaurants, a recovery will depend on when tourism and the arts pick up again.

“I’m predicting 2021. I’m not being pessimistic but realistic, probably around 50% to 60% of 2019,” Bajaj said.

When it comes to live theater, Chris Jennings, executive director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, said public performances will return in some form next month. However, he doesn’t see audiences returning in full force until sometime in 2022 once they have confidence in a vaccine.

“That’s the tricky piece. What is the time in which people really feel comfortable being back in public gathering places,” Jennings said.

For retail, Timothy Lowery, director of CityCenterDC, said his projections show a quicker recovery when it comes to business activity.

“Somewhere, hopefully by the middle of next year, we hope to be back to about 100%,” Lowery said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Chris Mundy’s title at Oxford Properties. 

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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