COVID-19 / Economics / Resources

Center City District report: Here’s where Philly’s economic recovery stands this spring

With vaccines in arms and warmer temps, businesses across the region are inching toward recovery.

Springtime in Philly. (Photo by C. Smyth for Visit in Philadelphia)

At the end of last year, the Center City District (CCD) met to discuss what would be the next steps in economic recovery from the pandemic.

That December week, the country had begun rolling out Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare and other frontline medical workers, and CCD Director Paul Levy said the cliche “light at the end of the tunnel” had begun to focus in our eyesight. Recovery was contingent on vaccines.

Four months later, all adults in Philadelphia are currently eligible for the vaccine, while nearly 40% of the adult population have received at least one dose, and 25% are fully vaccinated, City of Philadelphia data show.

This, paired with rising temperatures, has allowed residents and businesses to move some operations outside, and it’s making the local economy stronger, a new CCD report shows. People are more able to get outside and are feeling safer in doing so.

“In the first week of April, more people walked on Center City’s sidewalks than in any week in 2020,” the report said.

Read the report

The data is based on pedestrian volumes at 20 locations throughout the core of Center City, and daily averages rose to 103,296 people earlier this month. The highest month so far during the pandemic was October 2020, where the city saw an average of 91,574 people a day downtown.

One of the most significant ways the pandemic affected the city’s economy: After 11 straight years of job growth, the pandemic destroyed the last five or six years of progress, Levy said in December. It’s been most severe in service and hospitality industries, largely for hourly workers interacting with the public.

Unemployment remains higher in Philadelphia than statewide, resting currently around 11%, compared to the peak rate of 18% in June 2020. Since last summer, the number of Philadelphians filing weekly initial unemployment claims has plateaued, with an average of 2,250 residents filing in March 2021.

For those who used to (or still do) report to an office, the square footage of office space has shrunk since last year. Total occupied office space in the central business district, which includes University City, has declined 1.2 million square feet since the pandemic began, the CCD report found. The report shows that the East Market corridor lost the most square footage, with about 357,000 square feet lost by Q4 of 2020.

Market research does suggest that with vaccine availability, some might begin returning to the office soon, but it’s unclear how much square footage companies will retain with remote work as a viable option, the report found.

And 625 restaurants — one of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic — operate in Center City as of January 2021. Of those, 210 are open for takeout, pickup or delivery only, 218 offer eating on-site, whether indoor or outdoor, 150 have temporarily closed and 47 have permanently closed.

When it comes to the 494 services businesses in the district, 46 have temporarily closed and 24 have permanently closed. Of 550 retailers, 42 have temporarily closed and 30 have permanently closed.

SEPTA ridership remains down from last year, but is increasing. The Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line and trolleys are seeing passengers at about 32% of their pre-pandemic levels, while bus ridership has seen the greatest recovery with March 2021 passengers reaching 45% of the January 2020 level.

These numbers will likely continue to slowly improve as vaccines become more widespread, but they’re heading in the right direction, according to the report.

“As vaccination levels continue to increase, temperatures moderate and the Commonwealth and City allow the gradual return of workers to their offices, Philadelphia’s economic outlook is improving,” it said.


P.S. Interested in discussing the future of work, including post-pandemic office trends? Join the newsroom on Friday, April 23, at noon for a public Slack conversation.

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Companies: Center City District / SEPTA
Series: Coronavirus

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