Image:Last Wednesday, Center City Proprietors Association (CCPA) held a virtual membership meeting with a presentation by Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District.

Ben Frank, Executive Director of CCPA, opened by saying that even during this pandemic, CCPA’s board has been working harder and smarter to create programs for members. He thanked the Philadelphia Orchestra for their pre-event entertainment.

CCPA President Suzette Mahoney said 2020 has been a year like no other, when their last in-person event was back in March. “We're here today to celebrate CCPA and it's 42 years of supporting business in Center City and bringing people together,” she said.

David Lane, Vice President of CCPA, said that Paul Levy and his team at Center City District have always had a great vision for our city.

Levy organized his presentation into three broad categories:

  1. Economic, housing and development trends
  2. CCD’s role in the recovery (sidewalks, public spaces, and parks)
  3. Prognosis: what they hope will be a good rebound by the spring of 2021.

At the start of 2020, 8 percent of the city's land area held 53 percent of all jobs in Center City. That was a little over 321,000 jobs clustered downtown. Levy said the city added about 85,000 jobs since coming out of the recession in 2009 and 2010. Around these strong job centers is where 80% of all housing in the city has been built over the last decade.

 “When the pandemic stay at home order was first issued, that essentially erased all the employment gain we have made since 2016, about 76,000 jobs. The biggest hit obviously came in leisure and hospitality with a combination of food services, losing 37% of all jobs,” said Levy. “Office sector work, education and healthcare has suffered some loss, but nowhere near as severe as what's happened in leisure and hospitality.”

Levy said we are recovering but recovering slowly. The good news has been that the new and ongoing claims for unemployment are trending steadily downward. In this last quarter, Levy said official office vacancies went up slightly, but “the reality, as I think most people know, is no more than five to 10 percent of office workers are actually at their desks.”

CCD did a survey in October. “The time between proof of concept and (vaccine) distribution probably puts us into the spring before we have widespread distribution. That suggests the next six to nine months in front of us are going to be challenging. But there's reason for optimism. At the end of that tunnel, 60 percent of people responding to this survey expected to be back (in office) by spring or summer.”

The bus volumes are back up to 45% of January levels, but Septa regional rail is only at 18%. That speaks a lot about the bifurcation of the economy between those who can continue to work remotely and hourly workers who depend on jobs for face-to-face contact.

Levy said the loss of international travel has been a huge problem.

 “We're at a point where 75% of restaurants are now open and 84% retail. They're trying to make it from a sadly diminished customer base at this point. On the good news front, despite some fear of flight from the cities, citywide home sales rebounded by June a little faster than Center City, but Center City is catching up,” he said. “Financially strong developers are able to move forward but those without significant cash are really on hold at this point.”

CCD’s budget has grown to almost $28 million from $6.5 million starting back in 1991.

CDC confirmed in March that all their staff were deemed essential personnel. Their core mission still remains: clean and safe. “We've been out there as a reassuring presence. Overall, we have 148 on street staff who work three shifts, seven days a week. We separated out the times they were working to preserve social distancing. And we kept every single person working through this whole crisis,” said Levy.  

Every time there was a demonstration, there was more graffiti. CDC doubled their efforts in graffiti removal from building facades.

CDC recently restarted their homeless outreach effort. “Starting last year, we put together with Project Home and Philadelphia Police something called “ambassadors of hope” in which we have two outreach teams out there, five days a week. Last year, we got 191 individuals to come off the street, no arrests or citations, but connected people to service so far. This year, we got 94 people to come in off the street,” Levy reported. “After the vandalism and looting in June, we put two additional patrols out in the retail district overnight.”

CDC is focused on the restaurant and retail areas. They have continued to plant new trees and greening downtown through their foundation effort, which is the vehicle for fundraisers.

 “The announcement this week with the total loss of indoor seating obviously is a huge setback and very damaging to that industry. CDC is working on an aggressive plan in January and February for takeout, which will be the one way to keep restaurants alive,” he said.

Levy said these new restrictions will be incredibly challenging for retailers as well. CDC is working on a whole recovery plan for the retail space in Center City. He sees parks in the downtown area as part of the recovery strategy for Center City.  

At the close of this insightful meeting, new board members were introduced and spoke about why they were a part of CCPA.

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