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Keeping workers in Downtown Columbus a challenge post-pandemic

An empty conference room. Keeping workers in office space in Downtown Columbus has become a challenge compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, affecting city tax revenues and real estate. May 22, 2023 (WSYX)
An empty conference room. Keeping workers in office space in Downtown Columbus has become a challenge compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, affecting city tax revenues and real estate. May 22, 2023 (WSYX)
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Downtown Columbus, like many urban centers across the country, is facing challenges post-pandemic. In some cases, re-imagining the ways the city core can remain relevant.

One of the challenges is keeping workers downtown. Pre-pandemic, downtown Columbus would welcome 90,000 workers a day.

That’s taken a significant hit, according to Marc Conte, the Executive Director of two ‘Special Improvement Districts’ downtown.

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“Assuming what we’ve seen with some other studies around the country holds for Columbus, we have anywhere from about 51% to 74% of those workers back in the office depending on the day.”

Does he feel downtown has taken a step back awards?

“Yeah, our momentum really slowed during the pandemic, and it’s taking a while to come out of that. But we’re sweeping a lot of new development”

Commercial Realtor Matt Gregory agrees.

He thinks “all downtowns across the country are taking a bit of a step back. I think it’s impossible to lose that much of your daily population and not take a step back.”

I asked Columbus City Auditor Megan Kilgore whether someone working from home, says Dublin, is paying tax to the City of Columbus, as they might have when working downtown.

She says, “Tax revenue is definitely impacted by remote work. Period. We did see tax revenue shift to those suburban communities.

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Using Dublin as an example, she adds, “If an individual is working from home 20 or more days in a calendar year... on the 21st day, they should be paying the City of Dublin”.

That said, overall tax revenue was up in 2021 in Columbus, and Kilgore credits new development for that. She says, “We have brand new, incredible new growth because the central Ohio region is booming.”

So, how do employers lure workers back to the office? Matt Gregory says a good first step is to create a workspace that can compete with the home office.

“Everyone is trying to make everything feel a little more homey. So, you have more soft seating, different types of light fixtures, different types of artwork, and environmental graphics.”

‘AndHealth,’ a new medical provider, just took over a floor of the building ‘2 Miranova’, vacated by ‘CoverMyMeds’.

Perks in their office include art and kitsch-filled rooms with sofas for brainstorming sessions, privacy booths, an open space for yoga classes, and even a meditation room with beds and dimmed light.

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Medical Director Dr. Myles Spar says it is critical to have ‘AndHealth’ employees in-house.

He explains, “We collaborate all the time. We need to constantly be working together (to brainstorm) on what is working for patients.

Commercial Realtor Matt Gregory thinks downtown may be turning a corner.

“A lot of local employers, from the 20 to 200 employees range—we saw them bring their employees back to the office sooner, and a lot of them are now reaping the benefits of that.”

Overall, despite downtown’s challenges, Columbus's tax revenue was up in 2021.

Auditor Kilgore says, “Yes, we had all the remote work all of a sudden shift revenues out. But, then, on top of that, we have brand new, incredible growth because the Central Ohio region is booming.”

Columbus Development plans for 40 thousand residents and 120 thousand workers in the next 20 years. Marc Conte thinks downtown Columbus’ best days are ahead.

“If you’re a company down here, you have the best access to the entire workforce in the region, as opposed to being on the fringe somewhere.”

For more information on the plan for Downtown Columbus, click here.

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