Downtown showing signs of recovery: city report

Downtown is showing signs of pandemic recovery, with increases in everything from construction activity and ­business licences to film permits and pedestrian counts.

The city’s latest ­Building Back Victoria report is a ­quarterly picture of key ­economic indicators covering May through July.

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Mayor Lisa Helps said the city has seen a 55% increase in business licences issued — 751 this quarter compared with 483 over the same period in 2020 — as a result of its 3.0 Recovery, Reinvention and Resilience Plan.

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, is happy to see pedestrian counts on ­Government Street increasing by 44% from last year. “When more people were working from home, it really emptied out the streets and hit the downtown businesses hard,” Bray said. “I am hopeful that we can get back to our pre-pandemic numbers.”

The report also said parking downtown increased by 44% compared with last year.

Daily office occupancy counts remain low, however, at only 20% of pre-pandemic levels, according to card-access data collected by Jawl Properties at 12 core-area buildings.

Permits to shoot films and for other media from May to August doubled from 11 in 2019 to 22 this year.

Special-event permits doubled to 40 in the quarter, which is still far from 2019’s 143.

Construction is clawing its way back. Permits issued by the city hit 353 in the quarter, up from 280 during the same period in 2020, but still short of the 443 counted in 2019.

Construction values were heading upward, however, hitting $214 million from May to July, well ahead of the $116.5 million in the same period last year and $94.5 million in 2019.

Tourism showed signs of recovery, even though travel was restricted to Canadians — and in some cases narrowed to British Columbians. Hotel ­occupancy over the key May-to-July period was up 26% from a year ago.

Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, said there was a modest but sustained recovery in the accommodation sector, considering the limited market.

“However, we must stress, in spite of these very encouraging preliminary signs, that recovery is uneven and not all businesses are recovering at the same pace,” said Nursey, who expects recovery to be a multi-year ­process.

He said Destination Greater Victoria will continue to work with its partners to “ensure that recovery is wide and deep across all segments for ­sustained vitality.”

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