‘State of the District’ BID panel discusses how to reuse increase in vacant space

The State of Downtown report discussion was virtual for the second year in a row, and the overall consensus from the Downtown Business Improvement District is that economic recovery in D.C. from the coronavirus is a long road ahead — but it’s on its way.

The report says that average revenue from shopping in 2020 was 30% to 50% of pre-pandemic levels and dining was between 20% and 40%.

Retail vacancy more than doubled from just over 10% in 2019 to almost 23% in 2020.

“I think we’re gonna have to get really creative about what we can put there,” said Heather Arnold, CEO and Founder of Via Metrics.

She said it’s time to rethink how to fill those buildings.

“I think we have to start looking at retail space as window on the sidewalk; we have to maintain that flexibility in those spaces.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser said that D.C. should also get creative about redesigning public spaces.

“This pandemic has demonstrated to us that we can get by with fewer car lanes, and I dare say, fewer parking spaces, if it will enhance the experience of people walking and dining and going to work and using public transportation,” Bowser said.

Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto said some vacant businesses should be turned into residential spaces.

“This would not only bring relief to residents by providing more options at a range of income levels, particularly those seeking more affordable options, but to bring relief and enliven our business corridors and provide existing building owners with an opportunity to partner with our city and have a positive impact on our community,” Pinto said.

Other notable elements of the report include hotel data for visitors to downtown D.C. In the fourth quarter of 2020, occupancy at hotels in the area was at 12%. Revenue was down 78% to $179 million, which is $649 million less than 2019.

Additionally, hotel employment was down 59% from December 2019 to December 2020 or 9,700 jobs.

The BID noted in its report that it provided $1 million in grants to restaurants and retailers in the downtown area.

See the full report on the BID website.

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.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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