Hamilton

Downtown Hamilton vacancy rates 'healthy,' jobs increasing: city report

Hamilton's downtown office vacancy rate declined one per cent last year, while storefront vacancy stayed relatively stable, according to a new city survey. Meanwhile, the city found a 1.2 per cent increase in downtown jobs last year.
Hamilton's downtown office vacancy rate declined one per cent last year. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Hamilton's downtown office vacancy rate declined one per cent last year, while storefront vacancy stayed relatively stable, according to a new city survey. Meanwhile, the city found a 1.2 per cent increase in downtown jobs last year.

The annual Downtown Office Vacancy and Employment Survey found a 12.7 per cent office vacancy rate at the end of 2018  — one per cent less than the previous year.  Office vacancies have been declining since 2015, the report noted.

Among storefronts and offices with direct street access, there was a 10.4 per cent vacancy rate within the survey boundaries  — slightly more than the 10 per cent in 2017.

Some of those vacancies were temporary, the report said, as businesses make renovations.

"In general, we have seen fewer vacancies across the board," the report said, noting that vacancies vary by location.

These vacancy numbers are "very healthy," said Judy Lam, city manager of urban renewal. 

With more condo and student residence development downtown, Lam said, there will only be more demand for commercial space in the coming years.

1.2% more jobs downtown

The report also looked at jobs downtown, and found 307 more positions in 2018 — a 1.2 per cent increase over the previous year. Most of the jobs downtown — 68.3 per cent — are full time.

Public administration workers make up a quarter of downtown jobs, with 480 positions added last year as new government offices opened, Lam said.  The report noted 389 new part-time federal jobs downtown.

There were also 297 new jobs which can "almost all be attributed" to full-time call centre positions downtown, the report said.

There were 139 fewer jobs in the education sector due to "realignments within the public schools," the report said.

"This is a trend that staff anticipate to see reflected in the 2019 employment survey as well."

More office space downtown

The survey tracks downtown office buildings that have a minimum 5,000 square feet. There was 28,000 sq. ft. of new office space added to Hamilton's downtown last year, and city staff expect more in the future.

The largest vacancies are in some office towers, Lam said, which can sometimes hold space for large tenants. If you eliminate those towers, "the office vacancy rate would be closer to seven per cent," the report said.

Years ago, office vacancy was about 20 per cent, Lam said — and she wants numbers to keep decreasing.

There's a lot of interest in Hamilton, especially from the GTA, Lam said. She said the city is trying to attract more companies to downtown, particularly noting the tech finance, insurance, and real estate sectors.

"I'm quite optimistic about Hamilton's future, especially downtown," she said. 

The report also noted a "growing trend" of co-working and flex office space.

It also said "heritage adaptive reuse projects" like King James are attracting tech and creative professionals, with "brick and beam buildings ... being renovated and updated to a higher class of office space."