Flexibility and Necessity: How the pandemic will reshape downtown spaces

While it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen in today’s unpredictable market, the pandemic and its aftermath will continue to change the way we live, work and move around. This presents new challenges for commercial businesses, local governments and urban planners—how do you leverage a changing downtown commercial landscape to create a brighter future and a space that works for everyone?

“This is a huge wake-up call for urban downtowns,” said Cathleen Edgerly, Executive Director at Downtown Lansing, Inc. “Just like businesses must adapt or go out of business, our downtown and development structure must also adapt and learn from this pandemic.”

NAI Mid-Michigan sat down and chatted with Cathleen about how a city like Lansing may change in a post-pandemic world.

Less gray, more green

While some companies may expand their office spaces to allow for a more socially distanced environment, others may shift toward a hybrid working model — with some time spent working in the office and some time spent working at home. Hybrid working environments may mean fewer cars traveling downtown for a daily commute. This will lessen the need for sprawling parking lots.

 “The truth of the matter is we need fewer surface lots and ramps for parking in our post-COVID world,” Edgerly said. “Accommodating parking over people shouldn’t be acceptable or the model used in downtowns anymore.”   

Decreased demand for parking lots will open up opportunities for more green spaces, creating more walkable downtowns and even opening up more opportunities for outdoor dining—all features that boost property values, increase visitor foot traffic, and promote a sense of city-wide pride.

“We have to design and develop for flexible uses and look at small scale development opportunities in attracting local businesses,” she said.

“We can no longer solely rely on the daytime worker, and must build pride of place for residents — creating an attractive downtown mix to serve the needs of those that are here 24/7.”

Prioritizing physical space and mental health

Even after the majority of the population has been fully vaccinated, it may take a while before the public psyche returns to pre-pandemic confidence. The introduction of more green spaces will undoubtedly have a positive impact on urban dwellers.

“Accessible and inclusive community spaces should be prioritized in part of the downtown development business model, ” Edgerly said. “We’ve learned many lessons due to this pandemic, so it’s important to remember that and not relive the mistakes of the past. Eliminating the sea of concrete will help us prioritize the public’s ongoing mental health, support a more walkable and comfortable downtown experience for residents, while ensuring that we are more prepared for any future health crisis.”

Post-pandemic uncertainty may also have an impact on the multi family commercial real estate market. Urban dwellers may be hesitant to live in densely populated apartment complexes with shared hall space, elevators and common areas. We may see an increase in demand for affordable single-family housing options in urban areas and a shift away from sky-high apartment buildings.

Promoting local entrepreneurship

A marked change in downtown office foot traffic may cause a huge shift in the makeup of traditional downtown storefronts. This represents an area of opportunity for urban planners and commercial leaders.

“We can no longer solely rely on the daytime worker, and must build pride of place for residents — creating an attractive downtown mix to serve the needs of those that are here 24/7,” Edgerly said.

For example, fewer office workers meandering downtown for lunch may cause fast-casual food chains to diminish or relocate to the suburbs. This will open up more retail and restaurant space for local small businesses and entrepreneurs. Competitive pricing of commercial real estate may also make these spaces more attainable to an entrepreneur than previous markets.

But, of course, with new opportunities come new challenges.

“All planners, and cities should begin to ask, How do our cities and our spaces help foster more entrepreneurial hubs, flexible uses, and opportunities for innovation to drive the future of our downtowns?” Edgerly remarked. “This is especially imperative for those downtowns or urban cores that traditionally served as the center of government offices and daytime only office spaces.”

Always looking ahead

At NAI Mid-Michigan, we’re always thinking a step ahead for our clients. We know our cities can rise above and thrive in a post-pandemic world. We’re honored to stand alongside organizations like Downtown Lansing Inc. in dreaming big and shaping the future of all the great cities in our region.

Both our agents and our company leadership are an active part of our community. Our strong knowledge of the local marketplace helps us serve our clients with the highest quality of service. Our commitment to community means we work to attract businesses that will provide helpful services and achieve success. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your commercial real estate needs.

NAI Mid-Michigan

Comprised of more than 30 real estate professionals, NAI Mid-Michigan is the best choice in commercial real estate firms in Mid-Michigan delivering clients a formidable package of office, retail, industrial, land and multi-family services and a direct pipeline to the area’s largest inventory of commercial property. NAI Mid-Michigan provides brokerage, investment properties, development and construction, property management, corporate and institutional services and property valuations supported by in-depth market intelligence. NAI’s global network is the single largest, most powerful owner-operated commercial real estate brokerage firm in the world. Located in 36 countries, with more than 375 offices and over $20 billion in commercial real estate transactions annually we’re all actively managed to perform for you. www.naimidmichigan.com

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