ORLANDO, Fla. - Since the start of the pandemic, Downtown Orlando has been really quiet. Usually, it’s bumper to bumper on Orange Avenue and the sidewalks are packed with people, but that’s not the case and some fear this is the "new normal."
“We’re hoping that it gets better,” said Thania Castro, an employee at Mecatos Bakery & Café.
Castro says business at the Orange Avenue café has been slow, with most people not going into the office.
“We rely mostly on them because they always come here for lunchtime, so it’s not the same as it was before,” Castro said.
But will Downtown ever get back to the pre-COVID hustle and bustle? Some believe many will stay working from home post-pandemic. Steve Belflower disagrees.
“Working at home is not a permanent solution,” said Belflower, president at HuntonBrady Architects.
He says he has called many of his employees back to the office, following social distancing practices and safety guidelines. He believes most employers will do the same.
“Coming into the office, being with your peers, co-workers, solving problems together, getting help and helping to grow others and mentor others, there are so many things that are satisfying about being in that environment beyond just head down, ‘I got my work done today,’” Belflower said.
We reached out to Downtown Orlando's biggest employers to see if they plan to return to the office.
Morgan & Morgan says about 50% are back and it’s planning a full return as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Fairwinds Credit Union is bringing back half its staff on Oct. 5.
PNC Bank is returning Jan. 1 and the City of Orlando is heading back to the office on Jan. 4.
Developer and broker Damien Madsen is also seeing positive signs in Orlando’s commercial real estate market.
“We’ve seen a couple upticks in tours,” said Madsen, senior vice president of The Lincoln Property Company. “There are companies out looking for space in Downtown Orlando.”
Castro is keeping her fingers crossed that downtown makes a comeback.
“We are just hoping all the offices open back up again,” she said. “We’re hoping that everything goes back to normal so we can have more business in town.”