GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — We are just over the two-year mark since this pandemic changed life as we know it. Of note, the landscape in downtown Grand Rapids changed dramatically when virtually all office buildings went empty as workers shifted to remote work.
In 2020, foot traffic in downtown GR was down about 60% from what we saw before this pandemic thanks to a lack of employees coming to work. Today that number stands around 25%-40% below pre-pandemic times as more offices are opening up.
Fewer office workers has meant less downtown activity.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President and CEO, Tim Kelly says a lack of day-to-day foot traffic during the typical lunch and breakfast rush has affected restaurants that rely on the office worker crowd for a lot of their profit. There is a grant proposal working its way through Lansing that would provide downtowns $5 million to help them recover from this remote work shift. The goal would be to renovate some of the empty office spaces into new uses and in turn, bring some people back to the downtown.
“I think our approach on all this has been everything helps, whether it's little or small, we have ways to put those resources to use and the more tools we have, the better,” Kelly said.
Another promising statistic? Expansion in commercial space.
According to Tim, there is a half-million square feet under construction right now in downtown Grand Rapids including the building of Spectrum Beaumont Health headquarters.
More businesses have opened downtown Grand Rapids than closed during this pandemic, another statistic pointing to better days ahead.
“So we still see some positive signs, and we know that companies and employers still feel the benefit of having people physically located in an office,” Kelly said.