Hit hard by pandemic, downtown Boston now getting busier this holiday season

The pandemic really pulled the rug out from under downtown Boston as workers in the area went remote and tourism dried up.

Now downtown is starting to show signs of life again.

Michael Nichols was recently named the new president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District and is now tasked with trying to keep that momentum going.

The district covers 34 blocks that stretch from Downtown Crossing and go thru the Financial and Theater districts.

“This is the heart of Boston,” said Nichols. “Downtown Crossing, literally the name suggests this is where the intersection of the city happens.”

Nichols added that many days the foot traffic in this area of the city has rebounded to just about where it was in 2019. “It’s the highest traffic pedestrian corridor in the city.”

Although people are starting to come back into downtown, the scars of the pandemic linger as many buildings and storefronts are vacant and are covered with “For Lease” and “Space Available” signs.

“I just think we’re facing a new reality now,” explained Nichols. “I think the future of what work will be and people’s interest in living in the downtown core will mean that there’s a new era ahead for downtown Boston.”

Nichol’s job is to help figure out that future and sell it to people who are still staying away.

“It’s really the central part of Boston’s economic formula and really Massachusetts’. There are more jobs in this district than any other part of the state, any neighborhood in the state.”

But with many of those jobs still at least partially remote, some businesses are hurting.

Nichols says tourism numbers are getting stronger, however.

It’s also been helpful to have most college students back on campus.

This holiday season they’re planning a full calendar of events to lure people back.

It kicked off with the Macy’s tree lighting.

Nichols said this year they’re sponsoring “Snowflake Crossing”. This will last all month and will include tours of beautifully decorated lobbies of downtown buildings, holiday light displays, and special deals at many retailers.

Nichols knows bringing back downtown is a challenge but says it’s also an opportunity.

“It’s activating the district, making it safer, more vibrant and creating a hospitable tourist and business community, and trying to provide support to those who really have a strong affinity for, and vision for, the future of Boston.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is also making the revitalization of downtown a priority.

In October, her administration issued a report looking at ways to create what she said, “Is a truly inclusive, round-the-clock neighborhood, filled with new homes, diverse businesses, world-class public spaces, vibrant nightlife, and a thriving arts and culture scene.”

One idea under discussion is to make it easier to convert some vacant office spaces into housing.

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