Workers trickle back to Manhattan offices — though Adams says business district needs ‘rethinking’ for mixed-work-era housing

Even as workers start returning to offices in large numbers after the summer slump, Mayor Eric Adams acknowledged that mixed work arrangements are likely to persist — and that the city’s key Midtown area will have to be reconsidered.

That means more housing is likely to go into traditional office areas, he suggested.

“Middle Manhattan will remain our business district, but we’re going to have to rethink how we’re zoning downtown after September 11,” he said Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by Crain’s New York Business, which has 340 business people.

Housing bonds and incentive programs have prompted developers to build or convert office space into thousands of apartments in the wake of the devastation in Lower Manhattan. “Downtown used to be a nine-to-five, now it’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week area,” Adams noted.

Still, new figures show a sharp increase in office usage since Labor Day. Average occupancy at its New York-area offices jumped from 38% to 46.6% last week, the largest increase among the 10 U.S. metro areas it covers, according to data from Kastle Systems, which operates the key-card business.

Last week, the New York City Partnership said its survey of 160 large New York City employers showed an average daily office occupancy rate of 50 percent in September.

Wednesday appears to be a peak day for office work. On the first two Wednesdays of September, bus and subway ridership reached about 5.5 million for the first time since the pandemic. Both the Long Island Railroad and the Metro-North Railroad were at 70% of their capacity in the week before the pandemic.

In some cases, the turmoil of COVID has actually helped bring workers to New York offices. Google confirmed to THE CITY that when the California-based internet giant’s employees were allowed to choose a new location, the city’s total increased by about 1,000 as employees from other regions decided to relocate to New York. Its 12,000 employees here make Google the largest tech company in the city.

Meanwhile, the Partnerships survey shows that only 9 percent of workers at large companies return to the office five days a week — something the mayor predicts may not change.

“I don’t know if we’re going to see pre-COVID percentages of people working in an office five days a week,” he said. “They seem to want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays.”

He noted that figuring out what to do with Manhattan’s business districts is the work of a task force led by former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Richard Buery, also a former deputy mayor who is now the head of the Robinhood Foundation.

The mayor also defended his requirement for all city workers to come to work five days a week, saying the city’s battered restaurant and retail industries need to return to the office to recover. He also noted that a weak economy could give employers more power to require attendance.

“A young man was going to come to City Hall to work for me and said, ‘Let me tell you from the beginning, I only do two days a week, I’m expecting this, I’m expecting that,'” the mayor related. “I said, ‘I don’t expect you to work for me.'”

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