HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The busy Honolulu business district has been less bustling since the COVID pandemic began — and it may remain that way, even when the pandemic ends.
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Experts believe having fewer workers and offices could eventually mean a big transition for Oahu’s central business district.
“I had my own office for 36 years and I closed it three months ago. And I’m happy,” said real estate analyst Stephany Sofos.
Sofos is among the estimated one in four Americans who’ve made the switch to working from home. She said she’ll never go back, and also offered a remarkable prediction.
“I don’t believe you will ever see another large office building in downtown Honolulu built in your lifetime.”
Consider the current vacancies: CBRE Hawaii said 13.8% of Oahu’s office space was vacant last year. The central business district — Downtown — is at 15.8%. In Waikiki, it was 28.6%.
What will happen to all that empty space?
“I see a bunch of offices converted into residential renting and going pretty well,” said real estate expert Ricky Cassiday. “And that will solve your housing crisis to some extent.”
“The need of housing is so strong and people want to be able to live and work in their environment and be able to walk to their jobs,” said Sofos. “They don’t want to be in traffic for three hours a day.”
That transition is already underway, with 1132 Bishop Street being converted to workforce housing.
The pandemic also spurred the state-backed coalition called Movers and Shakas, which offered incentives to lure high-level remote workers back to Hawaii.
Now, the group is pushing the Hawaii Talent Onboarding Program to keep young workers here.
“The goal is really to help newly-relocated professionals to transition professionally, culturally and socially to Hawaii through our place-based immersion program,” said Movers and Shakas director Nicole Lim.
Some professionals, like attorney Amanda Jones of the law firm Cades Schutte, are now splitting their time between the home and office.
“Now that we’re coming out of the Omicron surge and the numbers are going down, a lot of us are feeling more comfortable being in the office, and so people are in the office a lot more,” said Jones.
Jones also felt she got more work down at home. One University of Chicago study found 30% of remote workers thought they were more productive and engaged at home. About 50% said they worked more hours.
For many, it adds to up to that post-pandemic cliche, the “new normal.”
“The old guys love it outside the office,” said Cassiday. “The moms live it, having the kids at home and all that convenience, and all the traffic people hate being in traffic.”
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