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Chinatown Still Hoping For Empire Zone Status

NEW YORK — There’s been some grumbling in Chinatown that supporters of the apparel industry haven’t played their cards right in the drive to get the neighborhood, along with the Lower East Side and Little Italy, declared a part of...

NEW YORK — There’s been some grumbling in Chinatown that supporters of the apparel industry haven’t played their cards right in the drive to get the neighborhood, along with the Lower East Side and Little Italy, declared a part of New York State’s Empire Zone development program.

As reported, in August the city submitted an application asking the state to name the downtown area as one of six new Empire Zones it planned to declare this year. New and expanding businesses in Empire Zones get tax breaks when they add new employees or invest in new equipment. That could be a particular boon to Chinatown’s garment workers, many of whom have lost their jobs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

So far, the state has named five of the six zones it had slated for this year and Chinatown has not made the cut. It’s now in the running with 11 other districts around the state. The five zones named so far have all been outside the city, in Washington, Madison, Genesee, Orleans and Wayne counties.

The application’s fate rests in the hands of the key power brokers in Albany. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat whose district includes Chinatown, backs the proposal. But State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, is backing an application from Rensselaer County, in his home district.

One Chinatown source told WWD that UNITE should have pushed harder to get Gov. George Pataki to back the city’s application before endorsing his successful reelection bid. “Maybe we should have pressured him more before the election,” the source said.

But Bruce Raynor, the union’s president, disagreed, saying: “We are confident that Gov. Pataki is supportive of the apparel industry, totally.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking — a spokeswoman for the New York State Economic Development Commission said the commission would be making its decision on the sixth new Empire Zone in “days or weeks.”