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Pedestrians Are Again Returning To Downtown After Summer's Delta Scare

State Street, Chicago

Downtown office landlords and tenants keep a close eye on how many pedestrians are out and about across the Loop. More activity means healthier retail, a vital component of any office market, and that could encourage more companies to pull the trigger on returning to the office.

The spread of the delta variant dampened activity in August, after a hopeful summer that saw the return of tourism and events such as Lollapalooza. But downtown Chicago made a bit of a comeback in September, according to Chicago Loop Alliance, an organization of downtown businesses, and some local business owners say that’s boosted confidence in the market’s eventual recovery.

“Things might slow down a bit sometimes, but as we’ve also seen, it’s always going to come back,” said Marci Berner, owner of Tatas Tacos.

Berner just signed a lease for more than 5K SF at The Cooper, a new 29-story apartment high-rise developed by Lendlease at 720 South Wells St. in the Printers Row neighborhood. She has already opened Tatas Tacos locations in the Lakeview and Portage Park neighborhoods, and she plans to open the new restaurant, which will seat up to 150 patrons, by next spring.

“After a decline in pedestrian activity in August likely due to a delta variant surge, pedestrian activity in September improved, especially over Labor Day weekend, remaining over 50% of normal levels,” according to CLA’s new report on downtown activity.

And although Chicagoland’s office market has a long way to go before it fully recovers, after the late summer dip, occupancy is again trending in the right direction. Office usage stood at 32% in October, after sinking from 30% to 28% in the final weeks of August, according to data from Kastle Systems, a firm that makes touchless access systems and tracks office usage nationwide.

In addition, parking garage occupancy rates ticked up, increasing from 60% of 2019 levels to 62%, CLA found. And with theaters kicking off their 2021-22 seasons in October, the group said it expects parking and pedestrian metrics to continue rising, as long as Covid-19 doesn’t spring any more surprises.

That’s good news for Berner, who said she expects a solid 2022 in her new downtown location.

“We’re exactly where we need to be,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be downtown, so I think this is a perfect opportunity.”