2021 State of Downtown Denver

This year’s State of Downtown Denver report tells the story of a truly resilient city; one poised for recovery — ready to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic stronger than ever.

Today, downtown is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, and we have the data to prove it. This year’s report tells the story of our resilient city; a community of business leaders and city builders who stood tall together, positioning our center city for a strong recovery. Get critical information such as key highlights, insights, and economic indicators from the last 12 months with the knowledge and data our community needs as we move forward together. 

2nd
Fastest labor force growth
4%
Projected annual population growth
19.5
Miles of bike lanes

Download the 2021 State of Downtown Denver Report for the metrics, perspectives, and stories behind downtown.

Download the 2021 State of Downtown Report

Employment

After a decade of strong year-over-year employment growth, total employment in downtown decreased by about 20,000 jobs between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, based on the most recent data available. Over half of jobs lost were in the Leisure and Hospitality sector due to downtown’s reliance on a halted tourism industry. On the other hand, employment at information and high tech firms increased in 2020, showing the resiliency and increasing importance of these jobs to Downtown Denver.

5%
Growth in high tech jobs

Office Market

Office market fundamentals weakened significantly in Downtown Denver over the past year. In downtown’s 40,000,000 square foot office market, total vacancy is 17%, driven by a large amount of sublease space available for lease. Net absorption has been negative since Q2 2020, with the first two quarters of 2021 posting significant negative net absorption.

Talent

Downtown Denver sits at the center of a region with one of the most highly-educated and fastest-growing labor forces in the nation. While Denver’s unemployment rate was 6.7% in March 2021, up from a pre-pandemic 2.7% in February 2020, it is one of the only metro areas to grow its labor force since the pandemic began – continuing a decade of growth. LinkedIn monthly workforce data shows that Denver was in the top five cities for population gain from January 2020 through April 2021. In addition to attracting in-demand talent from outside of the market, Metro Denver also produces great talent each year, which can be largely attributed to the 11 four-year colleges and universities educating over 160,000 students annually.


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Development and Investment

New development and investment continued downtown throughout 2020 and into 2021. In total, 45 projects have been completed over the past three years or are currently under construction in Downtown Denver, bringing over $3.1B in investment to downtown. These projects add 6,767 new residential units, 2.8 million square feet of office space, and 1,794 new hotel rooms to our center city, creating opportunities for future growth and innovation. Included in these numbers are McGregor Square and Market Station, two transformational mixed-use projects completed in 2021, as well as the 30-story office building, Block 162.

14
Projects currently under construction

Mobility

Like so many other large and mid-sized U.S. cities, the use of the mobility system changed drastically in 2020. Reduced transit service capacity and perceived risk of Covid transmission on transit led to a 60% reduction in mass transit ridership. Downtown Denver vehicular traffic dropped to an estimated 10% of pre-pandemic levels. Pedestrian traffic on the 16th Street Mall dropped by 90% during the first months of the regulated shut-down. In the meantime, as people sought ways to break the monotony of working from home, bike sales and use spiked and space in the public right-of-way was rapidly transformed to recreational shared streets, patio dining, and pedestrianized public plazas. 


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Residential

At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was predicting an exodus from center cities. Not only did that fail to materialize in Downtown Denver, but both our core and center city areas gained residents. While official Census population numbers will not be available for quite some time, we know that total occupied apartments increased in 2020, and in the first few months of 2021, in both Downtown Denver and center city and 2020 population estimates from Esri show another year of increasing residential population. Esri also projects faster population growth in the core vs. the balance of the city/metro/state over the next five years.

20,000
Residents expected to move to the center city by 2025

Retail & Restaurants

Retail activity Downtown Denver decreased significantly in 2020 as employees, visitors, and retail demand drivers such as sporting events and conventions all vanished suddenly in March. Total retail sales tax collections, a proxy measure of total retail sales, decreased 42% in 2020 from 2019. Prior to this decline, retail sales tax collections had been rising year-over-year since records began in 2011. The average annual growth in retail sales from 2011 to 2019 was 7.4%, reflecting strong and growing demand for retail in Downtown Denver prior to the pandemic.


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Public Realm

The public realm in our downtown offers the spaces gather in the company of our community bringing joy to urban life. Celebrating our urban outdoors, Downtown Denver’s public spaces are where we go to mingle, grab takeout, sip our morning coffee, enjoy fresh air during the workday, and more. Downtown public spaces are for everyone, they are neighborhood parks when the city is the neighborhood. With over 250,000 active daily users of downtown frequenting our parks, plazas, sidewalks, and trails, they create the activity for and vibrancy of the city.

186 Tree Beds
Funded through the Build the Canopy grant program

Tourism

Heading into 2020, tourism in Denver was riding high. 2019 saw nearly 32 million visitors to the city who spent $7 billion dollars, capping of 15 straight years of growth in “marketable” visitors. The meetings & groups segment was similarly strong in 2019 with nearly 400,000 meeting attendees spending nearly $800 million in more than 1,000 meetings at the Colorado Convention Center and Denver hotels. Over the course of 2020, the pandemic had an overwhelmingly disproportionate impact on the tourism industry. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), of all the jobs lost nationwide due to the pandemic, 39% are in leisure and hospitality. Downtown Denver’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism, reflected in the fact that 58% of Downtown Denver jobs lost through Q3 2020 were in leisure and hospitality. While a substantial rebound is projected in 2021, it is estimated that the record-setting 2019 levels will not return until 2023 or later.

Download the 2021 State of Downtown Denver report for the metrics, perspectives, and stories behind the our thriving downtown.

Download the 2021 State of Downtown Report