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Downtown Ottawa office vacancy rate declined at the end of 2023


Canada's national downtown vacancy rate hit a record high at the end of 2023, while Ottawa saw a slight drop.

Some living and working downtown may have noticed more people are at the office these days.

"Yeah, it's picking up," says Wilson Pierce. He lives downtown and works a hybrid arrangement. "I find there are days that I won't come into the office because I can't get a desk."

According to Commercial Real Estate group CBRE, the downtown office vacancy rate hit an all-time high nationally in the final quarter of 2023 at 19.4 per cent. In Ottawa, it was a different story.

In a press release, CBRE says, "The city's total office vacancy rate decreased to 13.3 per cent, while downtown recorded a decline to 14.2 per cent."

It also points at conversions to residential space.

"This decrease was due to the removal of 110 O'Connor St., a fully vacant office building that will be torn down and rebuilt as a multi-residential high-rise property."

Scott Brooker works in commercial real estate and says he is optimistic for 2024.

"I think the worst is certainly behind us," he tells CTV News Ottawa. "We're certainly seeing foot traffic and activity picking up, and definitely vacancy stabilizing."

With so many workplaces following a hybrid in-the-office/work-from-home arrangement, it's not surprising that mid-week is the busiest time downtown.

"Monday and Friday is a little bit less people in the office, perhaps sort of in the 30 to 45 per cent range," says Ray Wong with Altus Group. "Mid-week, Tuesdays to Thursdays it gets a little bit higher; anywhere from 50 to 70 per cent."

Sueling Ching with the Ottawa Board of Trade says even with the vacancy rate, there is still work to do.

"It's one indicator of many that we are looking at as we develop our plans to transform the downtown," she says. "It doesn't change our path; we have to become a more diverse economy than we've been before so that we can be more resilient."

The public sector is a large part of Ottawa, but it is not the only city with a dominant sector, creating challenges with office space, post-pandemic.

"San Francisco is having this, New York to a certain extent, certainly Washington DC — other cities in Canada, as well, where there would be a large public sector presence, but it could also be an industry, so the tech industry, as we know — a lot of them staying home, working from home," says Mary Rowe with Canadian Urban Institute.

"I think we're at a time of extraordinary transition. Our interest is how do you imagine and create the right policies to enable whatever the future of office use and collaborative space is going to look like?" she said. Top Stories

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