With more people working from home, could unused office space be turned into apartments?
In Okanagan cities, physically going to work still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.
A study from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce using cellphone data showed, as of September, Vernon’s commutes were still down over 13 per cent compared to before COVID. (In Penticton commutes were down 21.9 percent and in Kelowna they dropped 17.7 percent.)
“As we see the shift of professionals working more remotely obviously it creates challenges that go along with that. Some of those professionals are perhaps not downtown anymore patronizing the businesses they used to: going out for coffee in the morning or getting their lunch or shopping regularly, but along with those challenges there is opportunity,” said Dan Proulx, general manager of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
One of those opportunities the chamber feels could be a win-win is converting some “underutilized” office space into mixed-use buildings with housing.
“It will increase patronage to businesses downtown, increasing the foot traffic,” said Proulx.
However, Proulx points out that creating parking spaces for the residents could be a potential hurdle that would need to be addressed.
Michael Sanstra, a local real estate agent who works in the commercial sector, likes the idea.
“In the long run, it could diminish commercial space available in the downtown core which is great. It means that probably the commercial spaces that are existing will have more of a premium price for leasing opportunities down the road, but is also may encourage further development of commercial spaces,” said Sanstra.
Sanstra suggests if the city does want to incentivize downtown housing it should ensure quick permitting for developers.
While proponents see many potential benefits, whether developers are interested in commercial conversions remains to be seen.