Baltimore’s traditional central business district is the economic engine of “a city on the rise,” according to an annual report released Wednesday by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
The 2016 State of Downtown Baltimore Report highlights the positives of an area — defined in the report as a one-mile radius of the intersection of Pratt and Light streets — that’s home to 29 percent of city businesses, 35 percent of Baltimore’s jobs but makes up just 3.8 percent of the city’s land mass.
“This activity matters,” the report states. “It stimulates investment. It creates opportunities for 122,000 employees. It is a reflection of one of the most densely-packed residential downtowns in the country. And it drives incomes and tax revenues that benefit Baltimore City and the region as a whole.”
The report comes at a time when the city has been pounded with bad news. Baltimore continues to struggle with the number of murders, compounding the city’s reputation as dangerous and crime-ridden; the perpetually struggling city school system faces a $130 million budget deficit; and Charm City still struggles with the aftermath of the Freddie Gray riots that broke out nearly two years ago.
As if trying to put an exclamation point on Baltimore’s recent struggles, the U.S. Census Bureau released numbers last week showing the city’s population dropped by 6,738 residents between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. Meanwhile, other urban areas in the country are attracting residents buoyed by a renewed interest in city living among younger adults.
But the Downtown Partnership’s report serves as a counterbalance to the emerging narrative of Baltimore as a city that can’t escape its post-industrial decline.
Housing occupancy in downtown dropped to 91.3 percent last year, according to the report. But Downtown Partnership of Baltimore attributes that to the delivery of a few large apartment projects and predicts occupancy will rebound into the typical 94 percent range.
The report also hails the success of retail businesses downtown, where sales totaled nearly $1.2 billion last year. But retail occupancy rate downtown does sit at 89.5 percent, well below the Baltimore metro rate of 95.4 percent and the national average of 93.7 percent.
Downtown’s office market is also performing a few clicks behind in terms of office occupancy. Downtown posted an 84.03 percent occupancy rate, according to the report. The city as a whole reached 86.55 percent, the metro area reported 86.88 percent and the national average came in at 86.35 percent.
However, downtown is home to a large cache of Class B office space while a “flight to quality” trend makes filling older, less desirable space more difficult.