Downtown Victoria can seem like a lonely place, with row upon row of office buildings and few people outside.
It’s partly due to a lack of government workers who are mainly working from home, leaving behind empty sidewalks.
On Thursday, when Premier John Horgan announced the first-of-its-kind satellite mobile office, specifically for public servants living on the West Shore, it led to speculation about the possibility of more workers fleeing the downtown core.
“I’m very pleased we are able to achieve this today,” Horgan said from the Westhills Sharespace in Langford. “It will be any member of the BC public service can access this space, work from here, collaborate with colleagues in their own ministries or in other ministries.”
The CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, Bruce Williams, said there will always be people who want to go back to the office.
“There are people working from home who love it, “Williams said. “There are still people that want to go back to work and want to go to a workplace.”
That’s echoed by the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Jeff Bray, who predicts growth for the core.
“We’re a growth region,” Bray said. “Downtown will continue to do very well because it’s one of the best midsize downtowns in North America.”
That includes Toronto’s Starlight Investments proposal for 1,500 rental units in its five towers for Yates Street near Cook Street.
While the retail sector is hurting with a lack of office workers downtown, there are surprisingly few vacant storefronts.
“You know downtown 20 years ago was tourists and nine-to-fivers,” Bray said. “But now we have this third element which is people who live above the store now. People live above the restaurant. Those are now customers that are in the neighbourhood.”
Commercial space is also competitive, thanks to growing demand from the tech sector, according to Graham Smith, senior vice-president with Colliers International.
“Our downtown vacancy is still surprisingly low,” Smith said. “We’re at 6.2 per cent which, when you compare it to downtown vacancies across the country, is really very strong.”
Many are banking on a downtown core that will come back stronger and busier post-pandemic.