2021 State of Downtown Denver Report Outlines Statistics, Promising Recovery for Downtown

May 19, 2021

The Downtown Denver Partnership released today its 2021 State of Downtown Denver report. The report, funded in part by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, is the most comprehensive look at the stories and statistics behind an economically resilient Downtown Denver. This year’s report looks at key economic data collected in 2020 that shows promising signs of economic recovery as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the Downtown Denver Partnership, we’re bullish on downtown’s future – and this year’s State of Downtown Denver report supports that outlook. The data is showing strong signs of recovery after over a year of disproportionate impact on the center city and our businesses,” said Tami Door, President and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, “Through innovation, continued investment in key infrastructure, a commitment to an inclusive city, and a culture of collaboration, we will continue on this strong path forward toward the economic strength we enjoyed pre-pandemic.”

The report highlights the impact of place-based economic development efforts to meet the vision outlined in the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, the long-term strategy for downtown. Highlights from the 2021 State of Downtown Denver report include:

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, representing over $3.1B in investment. With a vision for the future, developers continue responding to increased demand for residential, office, and hotel product propelled by strong projected population and job growth. These projects have added a total of 6,767 new residential units, 2.8 million square feet of office space, and 1,794 new hotel rooms in Downtown Denver.

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. However, as offices reopen, employees return to downtown, and companies continue to relocate to and expand in Downtown Denver, the office market will begin to show signs of improvement in early 2022 or late 2021. Excess sublease space provides an opportunity for new firms to secure downtown office space at flexible and affordable terms.

Talent

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 also shows that Denver was in the top five cities for population gain from January 2020 through April 2021. Companies continue choosing downtown because they see it as the center of an incredible and fast-growing labor market.

Residents

At the beginning of the pandemic, a mass exodus from center cities was predicted. 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 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.

Retail and Restaurants

Like all cities, Downtown Denver was disproportionately impacted by Covid, reflected in the fact that comparable retail sales tax collections were down -15% in the City and County of Denver, vs. -42% in Downtown Denver. This is due to the concentration of restaurant and hotel retailers in the core, which were some of the hardest hit industries during Covid. The decrease in downtown activity in 2020, retail vacancy has risen in the core, however, these 176 vacant ground floor spaces provide opportunity for new entrepreneurs and businesses to become part of the downtown recovery.

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.

Public Space

With over 250,000 active daily users of downtown frequenting using parks, plazas, sidewalks, and trails, they create the activity for and vibrancy of the city. Downtown Denver continues to invest in its public realm, creating a livable and enjoyable place to spend our time together. 2020 showed us that public outdoor spaces are critical for residents and visitors alike. As such, the Partnership continued expanding downtown’s tree canopy, marking 186 new trees planted to date.

For more information and to view the complete 2021 State of Downtown Denver report, click here.

About the Downtown Denver Partnership

The Downtown Denver Partnership partners with public, private and non-profit entities to implement high-impact strategies, outlined in the organization’s long-term strategy the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, to support its vision for an economically healthy, growing and vital Downtown Denver. For more information, visit downtowndenver.com.

About The Downtown Denver Business Improvement District

The Downtown Denver Business Improvement District (BID) is a public organization funded by private commercial property owners. It strives to provide a clean, safe and vibrant Downtown environment for workers, residents and visitors. Through their annual assessments to this quasi-governmental entity, BID property owners fund a series of district-wide programs that enhance Downtown Denver, including cleaning and maintenance efforts, safety initiatives and targeted visitor marketing. The BID is an independent organization that contracts with the Downtown Denver Partnership to manage its work program. For more information, visit www.downtowndenver.com/BID.