PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There is just no way to miss the contrast between downtown Pittsburgh before the pandemic and now.

The CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership Jeremy Waldrup says the workforce that was told to stay home a year ago is slow to return.

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“We’ve been tracking this on a monthly basis so when you look at March, you’re at about 11% still pretty low,” he said. “So, we’re used to 100,000 people coming into downtown a day, 11,000 people now so it does feel like a ghost town.”

In recent weeks Waldrup says a few of the major landlords in the Golden Triangle have seen a slight uptick.

“Last week they got up to 17%,” he said. “So we’re starting to see that, you know, the streets are getting busier the restaurants are reporting that lunchtime business is picking up a bit.”

But “a bit” has not been enough for some and downtown has lost some restaurants.

Waldrup is hopeful the trickle return will turn into a flow in the next few months.

“I think this summer, it’s going to be kind of rebuilding that number and we’ll get to 20%, 30%,” he said. “I think by the fall we will have a good sense of what the new style looks like.”

What isn’t known is who will still be here, who will downsize, who will leave altogether.

“As tenants look to renegotiate leases, look to move or make improvements, I will see if, in fact, they’re looking for lesser space but the jury’s still out,” he explained.

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Waldrup says while a major law firm is returning full-time to its offices next week, the bigger corporations are being the most cautious about bringing their people back to their downtown desks.

“Maybe we don’t have, every company bringing back 100% but there are new companies that are coming into the market and bringing that total up,” he said.

All things considered, the downtown zip code is still a popular residential claim.

“Even throughout the pandemic, we’ve still seen very strong residential markets,” he said. “I think the office market will come back, it will just be a little different. But yeah, I think we’ll get there.”

The new mask guidelines from the CDC are a hopeful sign, Waldrup says. The PDP says the more people can return to the outdoor activities that are a hallmark of Pittsburgh life in the spring, summer, and fall the more people will return.

This weekend the PDP is hosting its annual yoga event, the Three Rivers Arts Festival has announced its return, the CLO is going outdoors to Heinz Field, and Waldrup is confident Pittsburgh will have some form of a ‘safe’ 4th of July celebration.

How long it will take to get back to ‘normal’ he says there is no way of knowing but it won’t be fast but he likes what he’s hearing from the real estate folks.

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“There are people knocking at their doors looking for space in and around downtown.”