Despite gains in 2019, Downtown Baltimore has suffered economic setbacks due to the coronavirus

Posted at 5:04 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 17:41:15-04

BALTIMORE — After seeing gains in 2019, 94 percent of downtown Baltimore businesses said they've been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore released a report on the State of Downtown Baltimore.

Downtown began 2020 in a strong position after seeing growth in employment and retail sales with new restaurant openings. There was a slight dip in housing occupancy as new residential complexes hit the market, and overall residential population and leasing rates remained stable.

“In almost all areas, we were trending in the right direction,” said Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB).

Despite positive growth in 2019, many businesses are now struggling.

DPOB conducted two surveys in mid-March. Of the 150 responses the group received, 94 percent of businesses said they were impacted by COVID-19 and 29 percent said it would take one to three months to return to business as usual.

The survey also found the heaviest impacted industries are hospitality and restaurant/food service. The hotel industry could lose up to $940 billion in total output. All food industry (both full service and limited service restaurants) have a combined $2.1 trillion in output that is at risk. And over 46,000 jobs have been directly and indirectly impacted within Baltimore City.

"We’re at a place that you could see even from the consumer sentiment survey that we’re still fearful. We’re cautiously reentering, we’ve been comfortable in our homes, we’ve figured out how to work from home and be effective," Stokes said.

Telework could change the landscape of downtown with many buildings housing offices, however, the City has started to shift to more residential.

"People want to live near where they work, and so I think we are already on a path of making downtown a whole community of living, working, culture, commerce is all together," said Dr. Lindsay Thompson, ethicist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Stokes said the City is resilient, but unlike the recession, more people are understandably hesitant to go back to their usual habits.

"For the consumers, we see businesses stepping up to say if I want to earn your business, if I want to earn your trust, I must do these basic things. I must ensure that my team members are wearing masks and are comfortable. I must ensure that I’m providing hand sanitizer or stations," Stokes said.

There are now parklets, like in Fells Point and around Charles Street where parking spaces have become additional outdoor seating at restaurants, and the loosening of red tape.

"When we shifted to outdoor dining and them needing liquor licenses, we were able to transform what normally took three months as a process to three days," said Stoke.

In addition, the DPOB recently launched Black Business Friday where on the fourth Friday of every month there will be a celebration with music of Baltimore's Black-owned businesses, restaurants and makers in Center Plaza.

Also on Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young announced a new program for businesses to be reimbursed for permitting fees related to outdoor dining.

The Outdoor Dining and Street Closure Program will cover up to $800 in fees. To apply for the grant, click here.