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Fashion Center BID Eyes Garment District’s Future

The Fashion Center Business Improvement District sees a future with pedestrian and bike lanes on Broadway, the possible relocation of 7th on Sixth to a...

The Fashion Center Business Improvement District sees a future with pedestrian and bike lanes on Broadway, the possible relocation of 7th on Sixth to a rooftop space at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the designation of the Garment District as a historic area.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

FCBID executive director Barbara Randall said during the organization’s annual meeting last week that the district has changed more in the last year than it has in the past decade, including more nonapparel company tenants. And with substantial commercial expansion planned on Manhattan’s West Side, including possible development at the rail yards, the group is trying to prepare for the anticipated influx of newcomers.

While rezoning the Garment District to broaden the tenant mix is still undecided, Randall hopes that 500,000 to 1 million square feet will be designated for manufacturing, compared with the 7 million square feet that is earmarked. Setting up an incentive plan for showrooms to stay in the district needs to be addressed, she said.

“The city would never let a company with 80,000 employees just move out,” Randall said, referring to the estimated number of apparel-related workers.

Of the 27,000 people with apparel and textile manufacturing jobs in New York City, only 10,000 work in the Garment District. Although Randall does not expect domestic manufacturing to return to what it was during the district’s heyday, she is seeing an upswing in demand for New York-based production from companies that either are unable to meet the minimums mandated in China or need swift turnaround time for samples.

However, the city’s Economical Development Corp. and Department of City Planning have yet to meet with landlords, designers and manufacturers to agree on new zoning for the district.

Fashion-related businesses occupy 60 percent of the district even though industry jobs only account for 24.5 percent of the sector’s employment. “Very sadly, the zoning alone has not been able to stem the tide of industry jobs moving out of the district and in most cases out of the country,” Randall said.

This is happening as interest in the district increases, partly because of publicity from the Bryant Park fashion shows, reality shows like Bravo’s “Project Runway” and also because it is one of the few remaining neighborhoods that is defined by an industry, Randall said.

 

In the next two years, even more people will learn about the area because HBO, National Geographic magazine and the Museum of the City of New York have garment district-related projects in the works. In addition, the City University of New York and the Leon Levy Foundation have done extensive research and are filming a documentary. For its part, FCBID has published a historical book about the district.

As part of the revitalization of Eighth Avenue, which has been spurred by the plans to develop the Hudson Yards area and the High Line development, both on the far West Side, FCBID will extend its partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to use the bus terminal for art projects and possibly develop an events venue on the roof of the south wing. That space could be used for 7th on Sixth, provided an efficient way can be found to transport people to the roof (the existing elevator system is not geared for crowds).

“It’s kind of a blue sky idea, but there is some interest in it,” Randall said.

Vornado Real Estate wants to build a tower on the bus terminal’s north wing, which presumably would include street-level stores. FCBID has used that location for its Kite Flight, a kite festival that will return this fall. That would also provide another opportunity for FCBID to team with the Times Square Alliance, Randall said. An arts festival is also planned.

This expansion would bring more people to the neighborhood, but the city is looking into alternative means of transportation. Pedestrian and bicycle lanes on Broadway, from 34th Street to 42nd Street, are slated to open by August and will eventually be extended north to Central Park. Part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2030 plan, the so-called Broadway Boulevard would take two vehicular traffic lanes and turn them over for alternative transportation. Similar plans in other parts of Manhattan will be put into place as the city gears up for the anticipated one million new residents expected by 2030, Randall said.

“Clearly, we as a city must rethink how we move people around,” she said.

Broadway Boulevard will also allow for more “badly needed” public spaces and 114 planters, Randall said. The Fashion Center will work with the city Department of Transportation to install as many bike racks as possible and to encourage property owners to create spaces in their buildings for workers to store their bikes.

 

 

Also discussed at the meeting were plans this summer to give Diane von Furstenberg and Liz Claiborne stars on the Fashion Walk of Fame on Seventh Avenue.

On another front, the National Architectural Trust has notified FCBID that the Garment District may get historic status, pending state and federal approval. The neighborhood’s early 20th-century buildings, including those designed by architects such as Eli Jacques Kahn, often go unnoticed. Historic designation would help call attention to these buildings, Randall said. Initially, many property owners opposed the idea, presuming changes to their buildings would be obligatory, but they have since changed their minds. “It’s an opt-in tax abatement program,” she said.

FCBID will host a second meeting about the subject Thursday at its offices at 209 West 38th Street.