News & Politics

A New Report Shows Just How Bad Downtown DC’s Economy Got in 2020

The daytime population plummeted by 75 percent.

Downtown in April 2020. Photograph by Elan Irving/iStock.

A new report released Thursday shows the dramatic toll that Covid-19—combined with racial justice demonstrations and safety concerns about the Presidential election—took on downtown DC’s economy in 2020.

The annual State of Downtown report, published by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), examines the 138-block swath of the District bordered by Massachusetts Avenue, Constitution Avenue, Lousiana Avenue, and 16th Street, NW. 

It finds that economic activity in the area was just 18 percent of pre-pandemic levels as of December 2020, with only 10 percent of office workers in buildings, Metrorail ridership at 8 percent of its 2019 level, restaurant sales down between 60 and 80 percent, and retail vacancy at a record high of nearly 23 percent. The area’s daytime population plummeted from 225,272 people in December 2019, to 57,149 in 2020. Downtown employment fell by more than six percent, or 11,300 jobs. 

With rents down 24 percent, anyone apartment hunting could at least expect a relative bargain. However, the report found that condo prices had rebounded by the end of 2020 to their 2016-2018 levels. 

Unsurprisingly, with office vacancies already at record highs, the report projects that very few new buildings will break ground in 2021. In fact, the BID actually recommends a pilot incentive program for repurposing office buildings into residences. Among the benefits, per the report, would be adding to DC’s dwindling housing stock, increasing workforce housing, reducing car traffic since turning downtown buildings into apartments would bring more employees closer to their jobs, and adding to the demand for downtown retail.

In the nearer term, there are signs that happier times are coming. The BID points out that several new restaurants (such as the Cheesecake Factory) have opened this year, temporarily closed restaurants are planning their returns, and the last two shuttered downtown hotels are also plotting their reopenings.

You can read the full report here. 

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.