Pandemic could change Hamilton’s character

  • Changing world: a fall in foot traffic in Hamilton has been challenging for retailers (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Changing world: a fall in foot traffic in Hamilton has been challenging for retailers (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Demand is stable for now in the market for offices in Hamilton, but about 500,000 square feet of space lies vacant (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Demand is stable for now in the market for offices in Hamilton, but about 500,000 square feet of space lies vacant (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Growing demand for outdoor spaces in the post-Covid-19 era could lead to more pedestrianised streets and less use of the car in Hamilton.

That is the view of architect Colin Campbell, a director of OBMI Bermuda, who believes restaurants and businesses will want to “grow outwards” as physical-distancing requirements put pressure on existing spaces.

“We will need to rethink how we do things,” Mr Campbell said in an interview. “We will need to start viewing our streets not as a conveyor of transport, but as a conveyor of people.

“We will need to transport people differently to allow the city streets to become more of a retail and networking area.”

Restaurants limited by physical-distancing requirements were already growing out into the streets and that change might be here to stay, he said. Single-lane traffic on some streets and restrictions on cars in the city could prompt more use of public transport and bicycles, he suggested.

Mr Campbell said great changes were historically often spurred by huge events and that the pandemic had changed people’s priorities, presenting us with an opportunity to rethink how we want to live our lives.

“The future is very frightening and uncertain, but it’s also very exciting,” Mr Campbell said. “It’s an opportunity for a revolution that is controllable.”

He predicted that the desire for in-person interaction in business would return after the pandemic-driven surge to prominence of videoconferencing technology.

With health concerns prominent and physical distancing still required, he expected more of that interaction to take place in outdoor spaces. He said he was working with one client who was looking for “an exterior experience with all the technology tools of the trade”.

Penny MacIntyre, a partner at Rego Sotheby’s International Realty, also envisages more outdoor meeting places popping up in Hamilton.

“Eventually, either as a vaccine is found or as companies find ways to reintroduce meeting in-office or at lunches, for drinks or dinner, human nature will remind us that person-to-person interaction is generally important and critical to our wellbeing and the health of businesses in every sector here,” Ms MacIntyre said.

She said there could be more open-air wi-fi zones created in the city and “hybrid meeting spaces that may be private, yet weather-ready for the business community to have indoor-outdoor office environments”.

“People working from home are certainly achieving that balance with their patios and backyards or verandas,” she added.

Another way the face of the island’s capital could change as a result of the pandemic involves the oversupply of offices.

Hamilton has about 500,000 square feet of vacant office space, according to Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty’s May 2020 newsletter.

Brian Madeiros, president of Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty, sees an opportunity for redeveloping some office buildings, if the island decides to try and attract wealthy people from overseas, some complete with family offices to manage their wealth.

The real estate market in North America points to a desire among the high net worth crowd to move from overcrowded cities during the pandemic.

Mr Madeiros said: “If an urban environment is required by this new segment of our population, an increase in demand for residential living in the city may encourage developers to reassess the associated development risks and explore developing new residential inventory located in our city incorporating self-contained offices, large terraces, contemporary open spaces with the most current technology.

“With a number of larger buildings in the city surpassing their useful economic life, this potential opportunity would also create construction-related employment.”

In the shorter term, Hamilton is likely to be less busy, as tourists are few and physical-distancing measures continue, with some office workers still working from home. Fewer people will mean less trade for many of the city’s businesses and some difficult decisions on space and staffing, and cost controls to survive, Ms MacIntyre said. Commercial landlords are being asked for breaks.

“Each tenant in Hamilton is on a case-by-case basis and as such there is no unilateral effect on lease terms or rental rates, or whether or not concessions are applicable,” Ms MacIntyre said.

“Thankfully residents have stepped up to support retailers, restaurants, salons, etc, which is helpful to a degree but not enough in several retail and restaurant cases to sustain operations year-round.”

Demand remains stable in the general office market, Ms MacIntyre said, partly because international businesses are global operations with greater capacity to weather the economic storm.

She added: “We certainly saw a reduction and even cancellations of interest in high-end office space options during the last three months, but new companies to Bermuda and existing ones with leases expiring are soon are getting on with making decisions about office needs. “They may not be the same as pre-pandemic and certainly not larger.”

Changes in office practice include occupying alternate desks for safe distance between staff in open-plan offices, or operating alternating shifts for groups of employees to limit numbers at any one time.

Ms MacIntyre said: “The distancing has not triggered companies to take more space as they control their overhead expenses.”

She added: “Small to mid-size office vacancies will be more difficult to fill unless Bermuda attracts more businesses to relocate here, sooner rather than later.”

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Published Jul 8, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 8, 2020 at 7:13 am)

Pandemic could change Hamilton’s character

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