Once-coveted offices in SF's Union Square vacant as COVID-19 crisis forces businesses to close

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The COVID-19 pandemic could mean an uncertain bumpy ride for the commercial real estate market in the Bay Area. With so many of us working from home, the future of office space is uncertain.

Much of San Francisco's Union Square remains a plywood ghost town.

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Sly Benson sees it every day.

"I hate to see when people are not working, I feel guilty when I'm working," said Benson.

ABC7 News was at Battery and Market streets with commercial with real estate broker Louis Cornejo. He showed us several prime retail storefronts available for lease, including the former Specialties Bakery restaurant, which recently closed its doors.

"You'll never see vacancies at this intersection, it tells you a lot about what's happening," said Cornejo from Urban Group Real Estate.

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The effects of the coronavirus could be long lasting, as restaurants close, and retailers file for bankruptcy, and companies that occupy retail space re-think their entire work spaces.

Bay Area tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Square have told its employees they can keep working from home indefinitely.

The commercial real estate vacancy rate in San Francisco is low, 5.3 percent, but is expected to surge over the next several months.

"We're starting to see signs of life," said Karin Flood, landlord and businesswoman.

She says some of the business and retail that rent space from her like Urban Outfitters have plans to return.

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"Short term a little slow, long term it will pick up and Union Square will be vibrant again," said Flood.

Cornejo says many businesses may actually need extra office space to allow for social distancing.

"Instead of the top floor- the ground floor, it's easier to get to," said Cornejo.

Many are optimistic the commercial real estate market will return, how long it will take is unknown.

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