NEW YORK — UNITE HERE affiliate New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board, the local union that represents thousands of Garment Center workers in New York, has proposed the creation of a nonprofit or public entity, such as a New York Fashion Space, to manage and safeguard the remaining square footage that would be designated for the apparel industry.
Edgar Romney, executive vice president of UNITE HERE and manager of the New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board, issued a statement this week in response to a WWD article Wednesday that said union leaders were on board with a proposal to preserve more than 300,000 square feet in the Garment Center for apparel manufacturing.
“The union supports keeping good middle-class jobs in both apparel manufacturing and hotels,” said Romney. “It’s a positive development that transparency and public accountability of hotels has been assured with special permits, but we must also have a mechanism to safeguard our city’s manufacturing space.”
Romney said that, without this space, the Garment Center’s future cannot be guaranteed.
A spokeswoman for UNITE explained there have been a lot of illegal conversions in the Garment Center already, and the union would like to see that stopped. The union has proposed one or two buildings that would be a fashion space run by a nonprofit entity.
Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said Thursday, “I imagine having some agreement with the union is one of many agreements they need to have. There’s no agreement with the city, which has a long way to go in terms of rezoning it. If they have some deal with the union, they’re out of the gate, but far from the finish line.”
Kolb said there are many ideas being thrown around, and there’s some validity to the idea of a New York Fashion Space. “They’re looking at a building or two dedicated to young talent, but who pays for that? There’s no plan for funding. This is just an idea.”
There is an estimated 1 million square feet in the Garment Center being occupied by apparel manufacturers, a tiny part of the area’s total 10 million square feet, according to Identity Map Co., which surveys businesses in the district. There have been many discussions that a certain amount of space is needed to preserve a thriving Garment Center, as is the necessity of having a significant number of factories, suppliers and showrooms in one area to maintain its place as a world-class fashion center. As the number of jobs in the Garment Center continues to decline, real estate developers and landlords have been lobbying to try to free up some of the 10 million square feet for higher-paying tenants or even residential buyers.
In the past few months, designers and the CFDA, apparel industry workers and other interested parties have said that saving 250,000 to 500,000 square feet for the use of apparel firms would be an acceptable compromise. Still, there are many details to be worked out among New York City officials, union leaders, Garment Center landlords and apparel industry leaders.
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