By  on March 22, 2010

With the Garment Center’s rezoning still in a state of flux, tenants and other vested parties gathered at Yeohlee Teng’s showroom Thursday night to discuss the neighborhood’s inevitable reinvention.

Billed as “Urban Fabric: Creation in the City,” the discussion was an offshoot of the “Made in Midtown” study, an ongoing collaboration between the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Design Trust for Public Space. Once that research is complete at the end of April, the parties aim to have a better understanding of how integral the Garment Center is to the city and how its strengths might be best utilized to secure its future.

One of the panelists, Parsons The New School for Design’s dean of fashion, Simon Collins, provided the surest sign of confidence by revealing all of his 1,400 fashion students will be based in the neighborhood as of September. Half of them are attending classes on the Greenwich Village campus, which will continue to be used by other New School students. Extending its existing Seventh Avenue location, Parsons has leased 46,000 square feet at 218-232 West 40th Street at what is commonly known as the Katherine Gibbs building, though the two schools have no affiliation. The School of Fashion is already using one of its designated four floors and the others will be occupied next semester.

In response to a question about the need for intervention to avoid urban Darwinism, Collins said: “We believe very strongly in change, but designed change so that it is for the better.”

Moderator Deborah Martin, the Design Trust’s executive director, noted the existing zoning that was first put into place in 1987 was supposed to secure 50 percent of the neighborhood’s space for apparel production, but “that was never really enforced for various reasons.”

Collins and his fellow panelists — Teng, urban designer Ken Greenberg, Newmark Knight Frank executive managing director Eric Gural and Vogue contributing editor and landscape architect Miranda Brooks — discussed a variety of ideas including encouraging major designers to return some manufacturing to New York, initiating a Made in New York program, educating shoppers about the upsides of locally made goods and using architecture to attract visitors.

“Consumers need to know that when they buy clothes that are cheap, it’s cheap because it came off someone’s back. There is no appreciation in this country for Made in America, and that’s the bottom line,” Teng said.

Gural questioned why tenants could not move a few blocks west or south, to make way for “hip and cool” destinations. While not addressed Thursday, Wyndham will open Fashion 26, a 280-room, four-star hotel with an assortment of fashion tie-ins at 152 West 26th Street April 5.

Gural emphasized the area’s potential for retail development. “There is all this shopping going on in Times Square — it’s the second-highest real estate in the city — and it’s only five blocks away,” he said. “No one comes below 42nd Street because no one has a reason to. We have to give them a reason to.”

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