Downtown Denver is bouncing back.
After a year that saw a decline in the number of people spending time downtown, the city in March began seeing an increase of sustained increased activity, according to the Downtown Denver Partnership’s State of Downtown Denver 2021 report.
Downtown went from a pre-pandemic average of 250,000 people in downtown daily to a low 40,000 to 50,000 in March and April 2020. Activity increased slightly during the summer of last year but fell again in the winter.
But since March 2021, activity has picked up. There were an average of 123,000 people downtown every day in April, and for May, daily activity picked up to an average of 148,000 people a day.
“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 Downtown Denver Partnership. “We’ve built an incredible city, and we have to be careful not to spend all of our time reacting to the current situation and focus on doing what we do well, which is building the future.”
Door said there’s been an influx of companies from California as they seek a cleaner and safer environment for their employees.
“We’re meeting with so many companies that are leaving those cities with those challenges,” Door said. “It’s a good reminder to all of us that we need to be clean and safe and have processes and programs that attract and retain talent.”
Among the companies that moved to Denver or expanded here this year are MotoRefi, which is opening a second headquarters for its auto loan refinancing business; Victrola, a headquarters relocation for the record company; the new U.S. headquarters for AgriWebb, an Austrian agriculture tech company; and Kleo Space, a new U.S. headquarters for the Luxemburg-based space company.
Downtown Denver lost 20,000 jobs between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of last year, with more than half of the decline in the hospitality and leisure sector. But employment at information and high-tech companies increased from representing 5 percent of downtown jobs to 12 percent.
While Denver’s unemployment rate rose from a pre-pandemic 2.7 percent to 6.7 percent in March 2021, it is among the only metro areas nationwide to grow its labor force since the pandemic began. The city has seen many companies expand and others relocate to take advantage of one of the most highly educated and fastest-growing workforces in the country. Data from LinkedIn shows that Denver was among the top five cities for population gain from January 2020 through April 2021.
Although activity in downtown Denver declined during the pandemic, developers were still bringing new projects to the market. A total of 45 projects — representing more than $3.1 billion in investment — have been completed over the past three years or are under construction downtown. The projects added a total of 6,767 new residential units, 2.8 million square feet of office space and 1,794 hotel rooms.
The office market weakened significantly during the pandemic, but as people return to in-person work, there is an opportunity for new companies to secure downtown office space at flexible and affordable terms, and 2022 is expected to show marked improvement.
While many predicted people would flee from city centers as they sought to distance themselves from others during the pandemic, that was not the case for downtown Denver, which gained residents.
“The fundamentals that have fueled our growth over the last decade have either remained or accelerated, so it sets us up for a quick rebound out of 2020,” said Emily Brett, director of economic development for Downtown Denver Partnership. “The residential population has continued to grow — all the talk about residents fleeing the central city and urban core did not occur. All of the indicators we look at continued to show that people moved to downtown Denver during the pandemic.”