Global Pandemic Creates Challenges, Disruption for Downtowns

Downtowns are positioned to rebound strongly from the coronavirus pandemic. When that rebound might occur, however, is uncertain.

That’s according to downtown leaders interviewed by Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter as the global pandemic spread.

“Will we come back? Absolutely,” says Dewitt Peart, president of the Downtown Austin Alliance in Austin, TX.

However, Peart and others struggled to find a historic period that’s instructive for today’s crisis. Should they look to the Great Recession, or another economic crisis?

“It’s very similar to 9/11, in that there’s a lot of fear,” Peart says.

His confidence about a downtown rebound is tempered by the uncertainty surrounding the first global pandemic in modern times.

“People ask what is on the horizon,” Peart says. “My answer is by fall we’ll probably know what we need to do.”

For downtowns that were suddenly cool, the loss of momentum could prove crippling.

“There’s just a lot of variables right now. The longer it goes on, the more challenges businesses are going to face with the loss of foot traffic,” says Matt Wagner, vice president of revitalization programs at Main Street America. “A lot has to do with how long this lasts. If things are back to normal this summer, that would be a huge boost to the recovery.” Still, there’s little doubt that downtowns will maintain a crucial place in society.

David Downey, president and chief executive of the International Downtown Association urges downtown leaders to have faith. Once the pandemic is pushed back, he predicts, downtowns will rebound robustly. “There’s a degree of uncertainty, and that’s OK,” Downey says. “You’re going to see communities come together even tighter than it’s ever been.”

More on the impacts of the coronavirus and how downtown leaders are coping, appears in the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click below to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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