State of Downtown report shows fall in crime, rise in office space vacancy

State Street snow Wisconsin State Capitol downtown

MADISON, Wis. — The number of crimes committed in downtown Madison continues to fall, and the number of office space vacancies is rising, according to a new report from Downtown Madison, Inc.

The group released its State of Downtown report on Wednesday, giving deeper insight into where the city is headed.

The report largely focused on the area of the Isthmus between Park Street and Blair Street and defined the greater downtown area as the portion of the Isthmus from Camp Randall Stadium to the Yahara River.

According to the report, just over 2,500 crimes occurred in Downtown Madison last year, down from about 2,800 in 2020. In fact, downtown crime has steadily declined over the last decade. In 2011, 3,400 crimes were committed in the area.

Downtown office space vacancies increased for the third year in a row. Vacancies hit a 10-year low in 2019, 7.35%, but have risen to 13.4% in 2022. Overall, the City of Madison’s office vacancy rate is 11.7%, still lower than other state capitals such as Austin, Texas, 18.1%, and Des Moines, Iowa, 18.7%.

“One of the challenges about getting people downtown is having something to go to,” DMI Co-Chair Mark Richardson said. “We need to evolve.”

Citywide taxes generated by the downtown area declined, following a trend dating back to 2018. Tax generation peaked that year at 11%, but has since slid down to 10% in 2022. Still, the tax base for the area has grown by over $1.5 billion in the last decade.

Downtown residents have become increasingly diverse over the last two decades. In 2000, white people made up nearly 86% of the population. Now, they make up 73.3%. Asian people are the second-largest population, making up 13.8% of downtown residents. That’s up from about 6% in 2000.

Visitor spending in Downtown Madison began to bounce back in 2021 following the COVID-19 pandemic. Spending hit a five-year high in 2019 at $303.7 million but plummeted to $114.8 million in 2020. Last year, spending rose to $187.6 million. Over $110 million was spent on food, beverages and retail.

“The disruption has already happened,” Richardson said. “How do we get back and better than we were? Storefronts, popups, these things matter.”

Visitors are also returning to downtown destinations, up from just over 2 million people in 2020-2021 to over 7.6 million people in 2021-2022.

Click or tap here to read the full report.