Downtown Baltimore lost 9.4 percent of its jobs in 2011, according to a study to be released today by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
The partnership's annual State of Downtown report showed that the area had 102,731 jobs last year, down from 113,437 in 2010, according to Claritas, a research firm that tracks downtowns in the nation's top 25 metro areas and performed the analysis for the partnership.
However, local economists who reviewed the annual report on Baltimore's core — the area within a one-mile radius of the intersection of Pratt and Light streets — said any job loss likely was far less severe than the data indicated.
"I don't see signs of a 10 percent decrease in employment downtown," said Richard Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "Could there have been a decline? Sure, there could have been a small decline."
Clinch — who does work for the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency — said the drop could reflect problems with the data or the methodology used in the study.
J. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the local job market was being dragged down by the flagging national economy.
"On the whole, 2011 continued to show signs of recovery against a national backdrop," said Fowler, citing the report's overall findings.
Claritas' data for downtown Baltimore appeared at odds with citywide employment, which grew by about 2,000 jobs last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Claritas data showed job losses in nearly all major downtowns, with drops of 6.7 percent in Philadelphia, 7.1 percent in New York, 18.1 percent in Denver and 16.2 percent in Phoenix.
Anirban Basu, head of the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group — which performs fiscal analysis for the city — said he was as surprised by the latest Downtown Partnership figures as he was by the previous year's report, which showed a job gain.
"These findings do not square with our notion of strengthening economic recovery and are also inconsistent with the vacancy rate numbers, which indicate rising levels of economic activity downtown," Basu said. "From a street-level perspective, that's precisely what one observes — more activity downtown, not less."
The rest of the partnership's report showed economic recovery for downtown Baltimore. Office vacancy and hotel occupancy rates improved, though neither has returned to pre-recession levels.
Office vacancies declined to 17.7 percent last year from 19.2 percent in 2010, according to the report.
"We'd love to get to a 10 percent office vacancy rate, which is equilibrium," Fowler said.
Hotel occupancy improved to 63 percent, which is below pre-recession levels of 72 percent but up from 61.6 percent in 2010. The gain came despite the opening of the 256-room Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore last year.
"We're through the worst part of this and heading in a positive direction," said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and tourism bureau. "We've had a lot of great events, more conventions are coming, and we're starting to see short-term corporate meetings happening again."
New retailers — H&M at Harborplace, Fresh & Green's in the former Superfresh on North Charles Street, and several restaurants — helped cut downtown retail vacancy to 5.7 percent.
Downtown Baltimore also has become a more attractive place to live, especially for young professionals seeking studios or one-bedroom apartments, the report found. With more than 700 new residents in the area, demand for rental units grew, boosting average occupancy to 97.2 percent, according to the report.
"The very low apartment vacancy rate suggests the market is now positioned to transform several of the Class B office buildings to apartment buildings," Basu said. "Developers of apartment buildings have found it simpler to garner financing lately, compared to during the downturn and immediate aftermath."
Kimberleigh Eagleston, property manager for 39 W. Lexington, a former office building on the city's west side that was converted to luxury apartments in 2008, said that after a couple of bumpy years during the recession, the building is now typically about 99 percent full.
M.J. "Jay" Brodie, head of the Baltimore Development Corp., called the growing population downtown an encouraging sign.
"It's a much more diverse and mixed-use downtown than a generation ago," he said, "and that's the single most healthy sign for the future."
2011: 17.7 percent
2010: 19.2 percent, 2010
Class A rents: $21-$26 per sq. ft., 2011; $23-$25, 2010
Class B: $16-$19 per sq. ft., 2011; $16-$18, 2010
2011: Occupancy: 63 percent. Average daily rate: $146.93
2010: Hotel occupancy: 61.6 percent. Average daily rate: $146.60
2011: 5.7 percent
2010: 6.8 percent
2011: 97.2 percent
2010: 95.9 percent
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