Workers are starting to return to downtown Denver, but do they actually want to?

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Business and government leaders are trying to fill downtown Denver with paying bodies, but data says workers might not want a downtown commute ever again.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the Downtown Denver Partnership told Denver commuters to get back to their offices during a press conference Wednesday. Downtown businesses and government need the dollars commute workers spend on dining, retail, public transit fares and other commute costs.

While people are returning to pre-pandemic life, they are not doing so in numbers that revive downtown space.

Although vaccinations have kept up since March, downtown office spaces are about as empty as they’ve ever been as of the first quarter of 2021, according to CBRE data.

While Colorado saw the worst of its COVID-19 case rates last fall and winter, office space vacancy has gotten worse. During the final quarter of 2020, Denver’s office vacancy rate was 15.9%. Denver’s office vacancy rate rose in Q1 2021 to 16.8% – the highest level in nearly 10 years.

If vacancy rates across all of Denver are bad, the percentage of unoccupied office space specifically in downtown Denver is even worse.

Downtown Denver’s office vacancy rate was 19.7% during Q1 2021, up from 18.6% in the final quarter of 2020. For comparison, the downtown vacancy across the country rate is 15.1%, which is still lower than the Great Recession’s vacancy rate at its worst.

Hurting or not, the business and government leaders’ message might fall on deaf ears, however.

Data says much of the U.S. public want to keep their work-from-home schedules instead of returning to daily commutes and in-office work. Remote workers have simply grown to appreciate the flexibility, comfort, and time and money savings their work-from-home arrangements gave them over the last year.

Among the workers who have worked from home the last year, most available data says a majority would prefer to keep working from home.

According to a Gallup poll, 61% of remote workers said they would prefer to keep working from home. A Microsoft survey said 73% want to continue some measure of working from home. A survey from market research and data analytics firm YouGov found 86% of remote workers want to stay remote after the pandemic ends.

FlexJobs, an online jobs search service, polled remote workers most recently. More than half of survey respondents said they would rather quit than go back to full-time in-office work.

Only 2% of respondents said they’d like to go back to full-time office work. The majority either want full-time work from home or hybrid schedules.

Traffic data says people are getting back to routine, but still not in numbers before.

Traffic through the 6th Avenue and Federal Boulevard counter approached pre-pandemic levels two months ago but doesn’t quite get there. Daily traffic in March 2021 was 84% of the March 2019 daily averages.

Traffic jam hours are nearly back to prepandemic levels, as well. The 3, 4 and 5 p.m. hours in March 2021 each experienced close to 95% of the traffic they saw in March 2019.

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