Delta variant adds uncertainty to Seattle’s recovery

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It’s pretty certain that the Delta variant won’t hold back the economy – here or in most of America – as it did with the coronavirus pandemic in Spring 2020.

First, the worst damage to sectors like retail has already occurred (nearly 500 street stores in downtown Seattle have closed since January 2020). The survivors are strong and resilient (for example Pike Place Market; 270 street shops have also opened in the city center in the last year and a half).

Second, God willing, we will not have another heinous act like the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that led to the massive riot that accompanied the pandemic. The delta-fired surge isn’t going to go side-by-side with Boeing’s 737 MAX troubles either.

Third, and most importantly, we have vaccines. So far, breakthrough infections have been rare in fully vaccinated people. This has given people confidence to travel again, which helps tourism recovery and getting off. Cruise ships go to Alaska. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and cultural events are recovering.

Masks and vaccines may be required, but it is unlikely that we will return to the worst of 2020.

Any further reliable predictions are an invitation to get on your feet with a crystal ball and wait for the sound of a saw.

So how about a few markers to check out over the coming months:

Offices: This was an argument that dates back to the early days of the pandemic and remote working. Will COVID-19 destroy or just transform the traditional office, leaving a mix of remote and in-office employment? Or will the old office continue?

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, as of July 18, about 25% of the workers in the office were in the central core. That was 76% on 1. March, 2020.

Expect the Delta variant to slow down the return to the offices. Amazon and Microsoft will be influential here. Microsoft announced last week that employees returning to the office would need to be vaccinated and put the date off by a month. Amazon announced on Thursday that it would postpone the return of its employees in the technology and corporate divisions from September 7 to January 2022.

The online broker Redfin postpones an office return indefinitely – at least while the Delta variant is playing – and then also needs vaccines.

But in the end Offices have advantages: business development is easier when you can meet face-to-face with customers; Corporate culture is easier to convey in the office; and they offer superior creativity and productivity.

A larger ecosystem depends on offices. This ranges from restaurants to transit. Your wealth will not reach its full potential until we return to normal, including using employment centers.

Construction: Seattle spent much of the 2010s as America’s crane capital, a sign that the building is changing here. Will it go on like this?

Seattle remained stable, according to Rider Levett Bucknall’s Crane Index at 43 Cranes from the first quarter of this year, but behind Washington, DC and on a par with Los Angeles.

“Seattle’s crane count remains unchanged, with the residential sector making up the majority of the cranes,” the report said. “Dozens of new projects are starting construction while others are nearing completion, which ensures a balanced construction forecast. There is a significant amount of commuter transit work north of the city. “

Housing growth in the city center is offsetting the weakness in offices. The core’s population reached more than 98,000 on July 1, an annual increase of 4.4% and more than the citywide increase of 1.1%.

Construction employment in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue was nearly 134,000 in June, more than before the pandemic broke out.

Tourism and gastronomy: This was one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, and as much as mossbacks hate it, Seattle is a major tourist city. Will it return?

Cruises to Alaska have resumed. More and more cruise ships need vaccines. According to the trade group Visit Seattle, six lines have started sales trips. Norwegian Cruise Line will sail from the US for the first time since the pandemic outbreak, leaving Pier 66 on Saturday and continuing through October.

The hotel occupancy here was in the single-digit range last year. At the end of July, it reached 67.5% in downtown and 69% in King County. On July 23rd and 24th, a Friday and Saturday, it reached 80% and more in the city center.

Meanwhile, Visit Seattle held seven citywide inspections and / or planning visits to convention sites in July. According to the Downtown Seattle Association, visitor numbers had reached 85% of their pre-pandemic level.

However, this was before the Delta variant became widely known and constant scrutiny by the authorities is now undermining optimism about travel.

A farewell observation: I see more people on the streets of the city center and only a few wear masks. The Seattle Symphony is preparing to return to Benaroya Hall this fall. The Mariners have opened up to 100% seating capacity in the T-Mobile Park. Other restaurants are open. The flagship Nordstrom was busy when I was there this week.

Some other variables will also feed into the recovery here beyond the delta. These include the rising crime and business hostility of the majority of the Seattle city council.

Nothing is given. We will have to live with COVID-19. But please get vaccinated. It is our best weapon against this pandemic.


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