Civic News

DMPED and the local BIDs have a new place to bring IRL workers back

The Return to DC campaign is aimed at both companies that already had office space before the pandemic and those interested in making new moves toward in-person work.

An outdoor pilates class at Farragut Square, hosted by the local BID.

(Courtesy photo)

If you’ve been missing your favorite near-office lunch spot, a group of DC officials wants you to know: It’s been missing you, too.

And since IRL office occupancy rates still have not reached pre-pandemic levels — or even gotten close, in some cases — the city is trying something new to bring workers back.

The DC Business Improvement District (BID) Council, which oversees the city’s 11 BIDs, joined forces with the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to launch the Return to DC campaign this week. The initiative will employ several different approaches to help refill the city’s offices. 

BID Council chair Leona Agouridis told Technical.ly that the move is aimed at companies interested in giving employees in-person workspace options.

“Return to city life is about bringing back the companies that are already here — and then, hopefully, appealing to companies that aren’t here and showing them all of the great things about Washington DC, as well.” Agouridis said.

Those who visit the campaign’s website can find insights about area COVID protocol and employer and employee toolkits, along with anecdotes about city life (you know, the kind that happens outside your home office). Through July 18, the BID Council is also running a challenge where residents and workers can post pictures with #DCPhotoAlbum and #ReturntoCityLife hashtags and win gift cards from local businesses. 

Workers eating lunch at a Golden Triangle BID space. (Courtesy photo)

Local BIDs are building on these efforts and going further to nab workers’ attention, as well as restart the pre-pandemic ecosystem. Agouridis is also the executive director of the Golden Triangle BID, which stretches from 16th Street and Black Lives Matter Plaza (in front of the White House) over to Washington Circle and all the way up to Dupont Circle. According to Agouridis, the BID is home to 34 million square feet of office space and 36 rental units, making it an optimal spot for the downtown office worker.

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But data from Falls Church, Virginia real estate tech company Kastle found that occupancy in the area is still only at 45%, although it has wavered up and down since the pandemic and through its different variants. Agouridis said it also varies based on the day, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday boasting the highest occupancy rates.

To help employees return, she said it’s important to recreate those water cooler and company culture incentives that people lack at home.

“It’s those experiences that you can only have in your office in DC that people attach to and, based on the research, were the kinds of things that spoke to people the most,” Agouridis said.

In the Golden Triangle area, much of this strategy will focus on outdoor spaces. The BID will have permanent outdoor seating and free wifi at all seven parks in the area through October. Over the next few weeks, it’ll also start hosting a series of events at Farragut Square that includes yoga and pilates classes, movie screenings and a summer music series.

The programming, Agouridis said, is aimed at companies who already had space here and need motivation to return, as well as new companies like startups looking to gain a foothold. Revitalizing the downtown area, especially for an office-heavy spot like Golden Triangle, is crucial for the whole ecosystem, including the small businesses like restaurants and bars that rely on local customers.

“When people come back, that’s going to support their businesses and, in this particular neighborhood, that’s how they survived, is the office worker,” Agouridis said. “So it’s going to be really critical for their continued success going forward — and we have a lot more small businesses than you realize, so it’s going to be critical for getting them back.”

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