Numerous indicators of activity in downtown Chicago are getting even closer to normal, pre-pandemic levels, a new report reveals. This includes pedestrian activity, transit ridership, downtown parking, hotel stays, and office worker activity. The Chicago Loop Alliance has been measuring these different variables over the last year and has announced that June numbers suggest that the city’s central business district is finally witnessing a meaningful recovery.
While recent reports showed increasing levels in parking and office use, this month’s report is the first where all measured activities have made notable increases in tandem.
The positive numbers may not come as a huge surprise as the city entered the Phase 5 reopening in mid-June, which allowed fully vaccinated residents return to normal activities without wearing a mask and also allowed many establishments to return to full capacity. However, the city’s downtown office market continues to struggle with an abundance of available sublease space and the implementing of flex, or hybrid, work models.
However, the Chicago Loop Alliance’s report suggest that at only 31% of normal office worker occupancy, the city is on par with other major metros in the country. And there are certainly cities that are struggling even worse with their downtown office vacancies, particularly Dallas and Houston. The Chicago Loop Alliance says that Chicago area employees are returning to the office at a similar pace as they are in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
One indicator that does illustrate meaningful economic activity is the return of pedestrian activity throughout downtown. According to the Chicago Loop Alliance report, the week-to-week increase in pedestrian activity at the end of June was the highest we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. And to add context, the report indicates that State Street can expect to reach 1 million pedestrian visitors per week for the month of July.
Parking is the only measured indicator which has returned to pre-pandemic levels of use in the central business district, according to the report. And going forward, future reports will count office utilization across the Chicago area as a whole versus a snapshot of the Loop since the partner tracking this information has expressed that downtown office use is expected to continue on an upward trend through the year.
Other data points that offer further optimism are hotel bookings and transit ridership. While overall CTA ridership is just under half of its normal numbers, CTA use has been on a steady increase since February. Hotels still have a long way to go, with current occupancy figures still under half of normal capacity, but a handful of hotel operators indicated that they were at full capacity for the 4th of July weekend. And with other major festivals still planned for this summer, the numbers should hopefully continue to move in the right direction for the remainder of the summer.