Long Beach could look at incentives like tax and fee reductions to try and draw more businesses to vacant Downtown office spaces or to convert those spaces into housing.

The City Council voted Tuesday night for city management to come up with options that could include business license holidays to try and attract more businesses to the area that has seen vacant office space hit its highest marks in 20 years.

A report released by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance in August showed that 22.4% of office space in Downtown was vacant as of the second quarter of 2022. Some of the highest levels of vacancy were in the city’s largest office buildings like Landmark Square, which was just 53% occupied.

According to the report, there were about 1.2 million square feet of available space, not including underutilized office space and businesses that might choose to decrease their office space in the future.

Vacancies have been attributed to declining retail sales in the area due to fewer office workers being in the area throughout the week. Retail sales have rebounded since 2020, but employee visits from area businesses continue to lag, according to the report, which could be due to some workers working remotely or in a hybrid setting.

Councilmember Rex Richardson, who asked for the report, said that the city needs to develop options to fill these vacancies. That could include rezoning areas meant for commercial space to allow residential development and applying for state funding to help pay for the adaptive reuse of buildings, among other incentives.

“We know it’s an economic imperative that we all join in to address this issue,” Richardson said.

Austin Metoyer, the president and CEO of the DLBA, said he supported the request and wants to look at ways to activate unused retail space on the ground levels of buildings.

Richardson’s request also called for a dedicated homeless outreach plan in Downtown. Long Beach saw a 62% increase in its homeless population between 2020 and this year’s count, and Downtown residents and business owners say it’s negatively affecting the quality of life in Downtown.

Some have pointed to the A Line train as a source of the major increase in Long Beach’s homeless population. The LA County Metro board of directors and the LA County Board of Supervisors said they want to partner to provide more services along the transit lines, one of which ends in Long Beach.

A report is expected to come back to the City Council with potential incentives the city can use to decrease vacancy rates in Downtown office buildings before the City Council authorizes any program moving forward.

Downtown Long Beach sees its highest office vacancy rate in 20 years

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at jason@lbpost.com or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.