Downtown Raleigh businesses celebrate more employees are working on-site

RALEIGH, N.C. — Slowly but surely, more and more people are going back to work in person and using office space in downtown Raleigh.

More than 88% of the downtown Raleigh office space is leased, according to Downtown Raleigh Alliance President and CEO Bill King. However, restaurants and other businesses say they aren’t seeing the people that should come with that figure.

Leaders with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance say it all starts at the ground level to get people back in the buildings and working downtown. The storefronts have to offer something people want. Many owners along Fayetteville Street are renovating their storefronts to place businesses that will be successful.

Businesses already established say they are doing anything they can to get customers through the door.

Thursday was slow for some downtown businesses due to the rain.

“People working from home … they stay home on days like today,” said Oak City Meatball general Manager Adam Sheer.

Sheer is doing what he can to get customers back through the door. The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. and Sheer says he’d like to see more office workers stop by for lunch.

“It’s starting [to pick up], but it’s going to take time,” Sheer said. “It’s going to take time.”

King said more companies are reshaping what their downtown footprint looks like since many of them still allow their employees a hybrid or work-from-home schedule.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of really small or smaller leases pop up,” King said. “So, we don’t necessarily see nearly as many big large taking down lots of floors type leases.”

King said while the office space is taken up by companies, people aren’t always in it and using it.

“We were probably pre-pandemic in the [90% range] of occupancy, so that’s leasing … versus now, in the upper 80s, but on utilization there is still a gap, there’s no question about that,” King said.

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance has done things to make more people more comfortable with coming downtown by putting an emphasis on cleanliness, bright street lights and safety. It includes a grant program that allows businesses to get reimbursed up to $15,000 for upfit costs.
Raleigh's social district opens Monday, allowing people to stroll the streets with open-container alcoholic drinks sold by licensed restaurants and bars.

Sheer said he is hopeful the efforts will translate to more people filling seats inside his restaurant.

“Hopefully, in the future, we will get everybody back in the city,” Sheer said. “It’s coming back, slowly but surely, but it’s still not 100% that’s for sure.”

Another thing that will help these ground level businesses is the number of residential units that will be available soon.

Right now, there are more than 2,000 units under construction. Add in buildings that are still in the planning and proposed phase and that number jumps to 10,000, so a lot of transformation is still happening downtown.

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