Toronto’s empty downtown is starting to see signs of life again


Downtown Toronto turned into a ghost town in the early months of the lockdown, but now things are starting to improve.

Stay-at-home orders forced office workers to stay in their living rooms, and downtown businesses suffered – stores and cafes in The Path system were hit particularly hard.

Just a month ago, downtown offices were still mostly empty as the trend towards working from home continued.

But that is starting to change, according to a new report from Avison Young, a global commercial real estate company.

While workers are only slowly returning to the office, foot traffic in downtown Toronto rose 62 percent in the third quarter from the second quarter of the year, according to the Avison and Young Vitality Index.

The Vitality Index shows how traffic declined right after the lockdown in Toronto. Chart via Avison and Young Vitality Index

The Vitality Index uses anonymized cell phone location data geotagged to unique locations, aggregated to estimate total pedestrian traffic in major cities in North America. For Toronto, the radius includes locations primarily between University Avenue and Church Street and Front Street to Dundas Street.

There are also indications that more businesses and employees will be returning downtown.

For the second quarter in a row, total available sublet space fell to 6.9 million square feet from 7.2 million square feet last quarter, signaling that businesses continue to turn the tide. when it comes to wasted space, the Greater Toronto Office Market Report says.

Fewer buildings have more than 50,000 square feet available: 179 in the third quarter compared to 187 in the last quarter.

But downtown availability (12.9%) and vacancy rates (7.6%) increased in the third quarter. However, the rate of increase has slowed, as it has throughout the GTA.

office jobs in toronto

This graph compares declines in visitor volume in North American cities. Via Avison and Young Vitality Index

The report noted an increase in property tours, not only among existing Toronto tenants, but also with new entrants to the market.

Another good sign is the return of business to First Canadian Place in Toronto’s financial district, according to Retail Insider.

The following companies have recently signed rental contracts:

  • Ma’s Best – replaced Soup it Up (opening in Q4 2021)
  • Hazukido – replaced Jugo Juice (recently opened)
  • Simple Kitchen – replaced Davids Tea (opening Q4 2021)
  • Brasa Peruvian – replaced Rocky Mountain Chocolate (opening in Q4 2021)
  • Mean Bao – replaced Prairie Girl Bakery (recently opened)
  • Sweetie Pie – replaced Furama (opening Q1 2022)
  • Zen Kyoto Ramen & Torched Sushi – replaced Brick St. Bakery (opening in Q4 2021)
  • And several existing tenants, including Decadent Desserts, Forno Cultura, Forno Cultura Focacceria and Kupfert & Kim.

Currently, the Vitality Index shows a steady increase in foot traffic in major cities in the United States and Canada, but its trend remains significantly below 2019 levels, according to the report.

The widespread fall-back that many had hoped for has yet to materialize. In fact, the whole nature of office work has undergone a fundamental change.

“The definition of the office was changing long before [C*V*D] happened, ”said Sheila Botting, President of Professional Services at Avison Young for the Americas.

“[C*V*D] was essentially the largest change management activity in the world. Suddenly people realized they could work anywhere, anytime, anywhere. “

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