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Pandemic effect: Office vacancy continues to climb in Central Ohio

Pandemic effect Office vacancy continues to climb in Central Ohio

Many Columbus offices remain empty and the long-term consequences of the pandemic are starting to show in vacancies.

The office vacancy rate in Columbus rose to 11.8% in the first quarter of the year, according to data from Colliers, with much of that attributable to the 700,000 square feet of space that has been put up for sublease around the city in the past year.

And the number might well continue to rise as leases come up for renewal at year's end and many smaller companies decide they don't need it after all, brokers say.

This was most strongly seen in Gahanna and the area around John Glenn Columbus International Airport, where vacancy is up to 22.3% as American Electric Power, Intermedix, and EASi vacated about 127,000 square feet of space.

At the same time, leasing at big suburban shopping centers is on the rise. For example, vacancy at Polaris is down to 7% as Quest Business Centers, Matrix Engineering and Fusion Alliance all signed leases there. Four of the five leases signed for more than 11,000 square feet were in the northern Outerbelt.

Thirty-One Gifts move from New Albany to Easton was the largest lease signed in the first quarter at 26,336 square feet, followed by Northwest Bank's 18,731-square-foot headquarters lease, also near Easton.

Colliers though, struck a more hopeful tone about the 355,000 square feet of leasing activity in the quarter and the additional 1.4 million square feet of new office space, which indicated that some of those larger companies might be dipping their toes in the water for new space once again.

And brokers say they're sensing movement in the market.

"I think some of the big dogs are holding off to see how things play out," said Wayne Harer, broker with Newmark Knight Frank, which represents many office properties in the suburbs.

NAI Ohio Equities broker Matt Gregory said such volatility isn't unexpected given how the pandemic has made companies rethink the workplace.

Long-term, the fundamentals still point to demand for office space as Central Ohio continues to add jobs. Some will find employees change jobs as those who prefer working from home do not want to return to the office.

"These smaller and mid-size companies are taking a more proactive approach and I think we'll see them jump in first," Gregory said.