Why CBD's empty buildings on the ground floor should worry us

Aerial view of a section of Nairobi's CBD on September 12, 2022. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

An occasional walk downtown is good for your economic health check. The Nairobi central business district (CBD) gives a pulse of the entire economy, beyond government-published data.

The beauty of the CBD is that it’s small and diverse. Every sector is represented, and every trade and community are there. It’s a microcosm of the whole society.

One curious observation after such a recent walk is the number of empty buildings on the ground floor. Let us add the closed hotels which should be turned into apartments or even hostels. Think of Hilton downtown becoming a University of Nairobi hostel!

Traditionally, the ground floor is the choicest location for entrepreneurs.

Easy access to customers except for services whose appetite for ambience is well known. Think of lawyers or investment bankers. Being on a high floor gives a view and is a plus. Higher floors are also popular with impression creators and power. It’s unlikely that the CEO will be on the ground floor in office blocks.

Some enterprises love the ground floor naturally. Supermarkets, garages, hardware, factories, and warehouses among others. This is because of bulkiness and logistics. You take yourself out for a haircut. And come out lighter! In hardware?

Lure renters

Visibility, particularly in services attracts people to the ground floor, looking for a restaurant or bank upstairs does not add up. Imagine going to look for meat in a butchery upstairs.

But lack of ground space has sent some traditionally “grounded” businesses upstairs. The rent too, upstairs are cheaper for business, how else do you lure renters?

Empty ground floor space is a sign that the economy is not doing well. Perhaps an echo from the Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine and politics whose economic agenda is still crystallising.

Such empty spaces have not stopped us from putting up more buildings. That could bring down the rent.

Some observers suggest empty ground-floor buildings in CBD are not just about bad economic times, the city’s CBD is losing its lustre with Upper Hill and Westlands sucking business out of the city.

Soon, the CBD will be left to the government, not bad. Both CBD and government are citadels of conservatism.

Any empty ground floor building next to where you live or run a business? What was there before? Talk to us?