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Foot traffic returns to Downtown Austin as office spaces fill up

A new report from the Downtown Austin Alliance found office spaces are getting leased at higher rates than before the pandemic, positively impacting the economy.

AUSTIN, Texas — As Downtown Austin continues to recover from the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the downtown office market is on the rebound with a rapid surge of leasing activity.

Tuan Ngyuen is the owner of Poke Bowl off Nueces Street. He said when he closed his doors back in 2020, everything was so uncertain.

"We barely had customers,” Ngyuen said.

He said only 5% to 10% of customers were coming in.

“We had to throw away a lot of food,” he said. “We end up closing this location [for] almost six months."

Later in the year, when the restaurant opened back up, things didn’t get any better.

"We really lose all of that traffic,” Nguyen said. “Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people daily."

Nguyen said all the regulars were working from home. 

"You know, Google, Amazon, Facebook offices and then Bank of America, Chase," he said. 

But now, the CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, Dewitt Peart, said office spaces are filling up again.

"We're ahead of where we were pre-pandemic," Peart said. "We are leading the large Texas downtowns in terms of leasing activity."

Peart said when looking at other cities like San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, Austin is leading in activity as we have the highest number of tenants leasing space. 

One of the main reasons is that major tech companies continue to see downtown as the place to hire and retain people.

"We have the quality of life here," Peart said. "The amenities, the educational institutions that are creating the talent. And, obviously, talent is willing to relocate here."

With thousands of people working downtown, businesses like Poke Bowl will once again thrive.

"[That traffic is] going to drive the restaurants, the entertainment venues," Peart said.

Peart said residential units are also multiplying. Currently, Downtown Austin has over 5.5 million square feet under construction. When compared to other cities like Dallas and Houston, which have under one million square feet under construction, Austin's number proves we'll be seeing growth in Central Texas for the next couple of years.

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