As Winnipeg slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns about the future of the city’s downtown, according to a new report from the Downtown BIZ.
Although some office workers who moved to working from home in spring 2020 will be returning to their downtown workplaces, not everyone will, and BIZ CEO Kate Fenske says area businesses aren’t recovering at the rate they are in other neighbourhoods — with at least 40 businesses closing permanently since the pandemic began.
“Property values, if they drop downtown … that money needs to be made up somewhere else, and we want to make sure we’re getting ahead of this and taking action to prevent any major loss,” said Fenske.
“The revenue that’s generated downtown is not only important to attract talent and make Winnipeg competitive on a national and international scale, but it also supports the amenities that all Winnipeggers enjoy.”
“This report confirms the struggles business owners have been experiencing and now we have the data that shows us how devastating the revenue and job losses really are,” says @FenskePeg.
— Downtown Winnipeg (@DowntownWpgBIZ) July 21, 2021
According to the report, the average loss in gross revenue for downtown storefronts — which includes restaurants and personal services — has been a whopping $2 million a week since the beginning of the pandemic.
The city also lost more than $59 million in tourism dollars from the 56,000 people who would have come downtown for planned in-person conferences that were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Only 20 per cent of the estimated 70,000 Winnipeggers who worked downtown pre-pandemic have returned, the report says.
And business wasn’t the only sector impacted. Fenske said residential vacancy rates remain high downtown as well, something that might be attributable to post-secondary students struggling when schools moved online.
“We looked really closely at the residential vacancy rates. When schools went online and remote, it was tough for students — maybe giving up their apartments, maybe they had to bunk up with friends, or they moved back home.
“A lot of those students were living downtown, so we think that’s where there’s a big gap.”
Although it’s currently in use as a supersite for COVID-19 vaccines, the RBC Convention Centre is looking to get back on track with hosting large events, likely as soon as this fall.
David Chizda, the centre’s director of sales and business development, said the pandemic was devastating and caused the convention centre to lose at least 75 per cent of its business, but the future is beginning to look a little more optimistic.
“Our phones are finally starting to ring again,” Chizda told 680 CJOB. “People are getting back to wanting to have events in the fall.
“2022 is looking to be a really strong convention year for us. Fortunately, all of the conventions that had to cancel in 2020 and 2021, ourselves and our partners at Tourism Winnipeg were able to convince them not to cancel, but just postpone and take a future year.
“I’m happy to report that at least 80 per cent of those conventions have re-booked.”
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