Loop foot traffic returns but office workers stay away

Chicago Loop Alliance report shows hotel bookings up, more pedestrians are on street, but offices are still empty

CEO of Loop Alliance Michael Edwards (Getty, Corporate Responsibility Group)
CEO of Loop Alliance Michael Edwards (Getty, Corporate Responsibility Group)

Pedestrian counters on State Street clicked over 1 million times in a single week, a first since the start of the pandemic. Hotel occupancy in the area has climbed to 42 percent and parking garage operations are now at 59 percent of usual levels.

The Loop is inching its way back to life.

A new report on property, retail and transportation data from the Chicago Loop Alliance shows activity picking up. The Chicago Auto Show is also returning to McCormick Place, the first major event to open at the convention space since the virus took hold. And Lollapalooza will once again rock out in Grant Park.

But despite the note of hope, the latest numbers also sound an alarm: return to normal won’t happen anytime soon.

The city’s hard-hit office market is proof of that. About 25 percent of office workers had returned to their desks in June, according to the Loop Alliance, which drew data from security firm Kastle Systems and its own tally of 18 counters along State Street.

Since the coronavirus hit, the Chicago office market has seen tenants exit leases, cut space or cancel planned deals. Central Loop office availability hit a record high of 25.3 percent in the second quarter, according to Colliers. Citywide, office vacancy rose to 17 percent. Some companies began telling workers to return to the office after the July 4 weekend, and others are expected to do so after Labor Day.

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Loop Alliance CEO Michael Edwards said he believes by the end of summer, about 50 percent of office workers in the Loop will have returned.

According to Colliers, “although there is some optimism in the market with a slight uptick in activity compared to last quarter, a return to market ‘health’ is a long way off.”

Chicago’s post-pandemic office struggles are similar to other major cities, such as Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, according to Kastle Systems.

And while more people are moving through the Loop, the 1 million clicks recently registered along State Street is 58 percent below its pre-pandemic volume.

The Loop Alliance also reported that bus ridership had ticked up to 45 percent of its usual volume, OpenTable reservations in the city have approached 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels and major Loop hotels have reported a rise in bookings, especially during the July 4 weekend. Rates are also “starting to creep up,” Edwards said.

In addition to the auto show that opened today at McCormick Place, the convention center has 119 bookings through the rest of the year. While that’s considered seasonally sluggish, the massive space — along with many others — is still trying to rebound from the pandemic.

“Conventions are lagging,” the city’s chief marketing officer, Michael Fassnacht, told the Chicago Sun-Times this week. “But after September, we have strong bookings. And 2022 looks very, very promising.”

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