New data shows opposing forces at play in downtown Raleigh

Sean Coffey Image
Friday, May 26, 2023
New data shows opposing forces at play in downtown Raleigh
New data is shedding light on the economic state of downtown Raleigh.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- New data is shedding light on the economic state of downtown Raleigh.

A recent report, conducted in partnership with the city, shows Glenwood South is back to its pre-pandemic economic engine, while data analyzed by the ABC11 data team paints a different picture of the state of foot traffic and office space in downtown Raleigh.

That report shows Glenwood South generates $1.2 billion for the local economy, and is responsible for 18,500 jobs. Larry Miller, President of the Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative, says the entertainment district did $125 million in food and beverage sales in 2022 -- more than in 2019.

"That's over 3% of all of Wake County's food and beverage taxes collected here in Glenwood South. So yes, the businesses are doing well and they're expanding," Miller said.

He said Raleigh, and Glenwood in particular, remain a destination.

"We get millions of visitors coming here from both, from other parts of Raleigh, from other parts of Wake County, from other cities in North Carolina, and from other states," he said.

It's a slightly different story when it comes to the classic 9-to-5 foot traffic in downtown Raleigh. Cellphone location data analyzed by ABC11 shows an uneven recovery since COVID-19 wiped out much of that foot traffic. That data shows it peaked at 64% of pre-pandemic levels in 2021, but now is about half of pre-pandemic levels.

Raleigh's Director of Economic Development admits the return of office workers has been slower than expected, but says the city isn't fazed.

"Companies are going to look where there's talent, cost of doing businesses is low or reasonable, and where they can find space," said Kyle Touchstone. "And so while some people may think that having vacancy rates that are higher or a negative, we just see that as a great opportunity to recruit new companies or help companies that are local grow."

Touchstone said Raleigh's inclusion on several "best-of" lists gives the city cause for optimism, and that the capital city is in a much better position than other cities its size. He also said the city is looking into alternative solutions, such as office-to-lab conversions downtown.

Several city officials will be attending a conference in Boston next month that focuses on life sciences in hopes they can gather new information on converting open space.

"We'll continue to see a focus on some of these office-to-lab conversions and urban lab space while in Boston. We're going to go to some of these urban lab spaces to look at developing some of that here in the city of Raleigh," he said.

The slow recovery of foot traffic is still having an impact, though. Andrew Ullom opened a Union Special on Fayetteville Street in 2021 and says while his company loves the location, it's been tough.

"We're still really excited and really proud to be here, but we really haven't seen the bounce back that everyone needs. And so it is busier, there is more foot traffic, but it's not anywhere near what it needs to be to support the business community that's downtown right now," Ullom said.