By  on August 14, 2007

NEW YORK — The Garment District is under attack, according to those who gathered on Wednesday to discuss Garment District Rezoning: The End of the Fashion Industry in New York?

Savethegarmentcenter.com leaders asked the approximately 20 people at a meeting to sign petitions and appeal to people in power, like members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and city officials, to protect the 1987 zoning law that dedicates half of the space in the Garment District to apparel companies. The meeting, held at the Penn Plaza Pavilion, followed Direction: The International Textile Design Show.

The asymmetric cross-shaped area between 35th and 40th Streets between Broadway and Ninth Avenue might be seeing rent increases if the apparel industry loses its preferred status. As rents rise, sample rooms, factories and suppliers will close or get pushed to outer boroughs, according to Samantha Cortes, president and chief executive officer of Fashion Design Concepts Inc., who also cofounded savethegarmentcenter.com and spearheaded the meeting.

According to Cortes, areas surrounding the zoned district are charging upward of $100 per square foot, compared with the approximately $25 per square foot charged in the zoned space. "So these landlords are thinking, 'if I can get $125 a square foot, then why am I getting $25,' and they are putting pressure on the fashion industry to change the zoning," she said.

Cortes said her rent on 38th Street increased 35 percent, but moving costs were prohibitive, so her sample service stayed put. Larry Geffner, also at the meeting, said he extended Vogue Too: Pleating, Stitching & Embroidery Inc.'s lease on 37th Street two years early, under the theory rates are just going to continue to increase.

"We acknowledge that the industry has shrunk, but you still need a critical mass to be preserved," said Geffner. "If we lose even a small portion of what we have, we will lose the nucleus of the industry in the city, and if we lose the nucleus of the New York Garment District, we will lose the shows and we will lose the status as fashion capital. To be competitive on the world market, the Garment District companies cannot afford the higher rates that law firms and other offices are willing to pay."Geffner said New York could lose out to China, Los Angeles or even Chicago, which is actively cultivating a fashion image.

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