Brooklyn Boro

Workers trickle back to offices, even as Adams says business districts need a residential ‘rethink’ for hybrid work era

Mayor suggests the post-9/11 evolution of FiDi may be a blueprint for rebuilding momentum for Midtown and other business districts as workers continue Zooming in to work part-time.

September 22, 2022 Greg David, THE CITY
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Even as workers have begun to return to the office in notably greater numbers after a summer slump, Mayor Eric Adams admits that hybrid work arrangements are likely to persist — and that the city’s crucial Midtown districts will have to be rethought.

That means more housing could be coming to what have traditionally been office zones, he suggested.

“Central Manhattan will remain our business district, but we are going to have to do a zoning rethink the way we did with downtown after September 11,” he said Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by Crain’s New York Business packed with 340 business people.

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After the devastation in lower Manhattan, housing bonds and incentive programs spurred developers to build or convert office spaces into thousands of apartments. “Downtown used to be just 9-to-5 and now it’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week district,” Adams noted.

Still, new data shows a sharp increase in office use since Labor Day. Data from Kastle Systems, which runs keycard operations, showed average occupancy in New York area offices last week jumped to 46.6% from 38% — the steepest increase of the 10 U.S. metro areas it covers.

Last week, the Partnership for New York City said its survey of 160 large employers in the city showed average daily office occupancy in September at 50%.

Wednesday appears to be the peak day for in-office work. The first two Wednesdays in September saw bus and subway ridership hit about 5.5 million for the first time since the pandemic. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad both show ridership that is 70% of their pre-pandemic numbers in the middle of the week.

In some cases, the turmoil of COVID has actually helped bring workers to offices in New York. Google confirmed to THE CITY that when its employees at the California-headquartered internet giant were allowed to pick a new office location, the overall headcount in the city increased by about 1,000 as its workers from other areas decided to relocate to New York. Its 12,000 employees here make Google the largest tech company in the city.

At the same time, the Partnership survey showed that only 9% of workers at big companies are back in the office five days a week — something the mayor predicts may not change.

“I don’t know if we will ever see a pre-COVID percent of people in the office five days a week,” he said. “They seem to want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays.”

He noted that figuring out what to do with the Manhattan business districts is the job of a task force headed by former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff and Richard Buery, also a former deputy mayor and now head of the Robinhood Foundation.

The mayor also defended his requirement that all city workers come in five days a week, saying that a return to the office is required for the city’s hard-hit restaurant and retail industries to bounce back. He also noted that a weakening economy could give employers more power to require office attendance.

“A young man was going to come to work for me at City Hall and said to me, ‘Let me tell you right from the start that I’m only doing two days a week and I expect this and I expect that,” the mayor related. “And I said, ‘I don’t expect you will be working for me.’”

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