Montreal’s socio-economic sky is clearing up, but pandemic clouds remain

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There is encouraging news for the downtown area in the Downtown Montreal Report, which measures the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The vacancy rate for downtown Montreal office buildings was higher in the third quarter of 2021 than during the same period in 2020 and 2019, according to the latest edition of a quarterly report on the socio-economic portrait. economy of the city center. Forty-one percent of stores and restaurants in office buildings or metro and train stations have been closed either permanently or temporarily.

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But the fourth edition of the Downtown Montreal Report, which measured the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and highlighted efforts to revive the city, also contains encouraging news. Sales of new and existing condos in the downtown core have rebounded from a dramatic drop in the second quarter of 2020 and median prices are on the rise, with a 65% increase in new condo construction and 53% in new condo construction. rental housing.

The presence of CEGEP and university students in downtown Montreal now that they have returned to classes in person is felt everywhere, from restaurants to public transportation. And a net of tourists returned to Montreal last summer. This meant that the hotel’s occupancy rate in August 2021 was double that of August 2020, if not half of what it was in August 2019.

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Still, “the recovery of activity to pre-pandemic levels is still out of sight,” according to the report. Despite a high vaccination rate and the advent of vaccine passports, the fourth wave of the pandemic “prolonged the uncertainty” that Montrealers feel and caused “a complex and dynamic situation where hope and anxiety are intertwined.”

The first edition of the Downtown Montreal Report, published by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Association des merchants du center-ville de Montreal Center-Ville in October 2020, was full of sad news on the economic record. of the pandemic in the heart of the city.

The latest edition, based on the results of an online survey carried out in early September among 1,000 residents of the greater Montreal area, “speaks of a certain resumption of activity”, according to the introduction, “but there is still has clouds on the horizon. . “

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Downtown Montreal “retains its appeal, but the current trend is towards shorter leases and smaller offices,” the report said. While companies typically opt for long-term leases to ensure predictability, brokers interviewed for the report said 84% of agreements signed were for terms between two and five years, indicating “some degree of caution on the part of the companies concerned “.

About half of the leases involved businesses moving from one downtown location to another; more than a third concern companies moving to downtown elsewhere and negotiations for new leases generally involve a reduced surface area.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they were working remotely, part-time, or full-time, during the third quarter of 2021. When asked about post-pandemic work preferences, 71 percent said that ‘they would like to work from home “most or at least half of the time.

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The number of people working part-time remotely is increasing slightly, but the number of people working exclusively remotely has decreased: it fell below 50% in the third quarter for the first time since spring 2020.

Yet despite the successful vaccination campaign and the implementation of the vaccination passport, people are not flocking to downtown Montreal stores, according to the report. The key element supporting the growth is the volume of customer traffic and that depends on factors such as the return of workers to offices and the long-term future of remote working, he said.

Although the number of store closings has declined slightly, 34% of stores remain closed in malls, where businesses depend on traffic from office workers. Activity has improved since the end of 2020 for ground-floor retailers in office buildings and near metro stations, but more than four in 10 stores remain closed. On Ste-Catherine Street, three percent of stores are temporarily closed and 17 percent of retail spaces are vacant, up from 13 percent in 2019.

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Between Q1 and Q3 2021, companies aiming for a work model that combines remote and office work increased their employee rosters by 20%, according to the report, while companies that had not announced a similar plans have seen their numbers cut in half.

Before the pandemic, most people used public transportation to get to the city center. The third quarter of 2021 marked the beginning of a return to these pre-pandemic habits. Car use fell to 49% from 57% in the second quarter of 2020, according to the report. Public transportation, which accounted for 58 percent of all commuting trips before the pandemic, is now used by 45 percent of survey respondents.

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  1. The corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine streets.  is seen in the middle of a weekday in March 2020.

    Report lays bare the economic toll of the pandemic in downtown Montreal

  2. Office in downtown Montreal, the number of vacant positions continues to increase

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