By  on December 10, 2008

Union leaders are said to be on board with a proposal to preserve about 300,000 square feet in the Garment Center for apparel manufacturing, according to sources.

Of course, no formal deal will be struck without approval from all parties, including New York City officials, union leaders, Garment Center landlords and apparel executives.

There is an estimated 1 million square feet in the Garment District being occupied by apparel manufacturers, a sliver of the area’s total 10 million square feet, according to Identity Map Co., which surveys businesses in the district. As the number of jobs in the Garment Center continues to dwindle, landlords and real estate developers have been lobbying to try to free up some of the 10 million square feet for higher-paying tenants or even residential buyers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has voiced support for local apparel production, but the debate over the area’s future has raged almost since he took office with no resolution in sight.

However, in recent months, designers and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, apparel industry workers and other interested parties have indicated that saving 250,000 to 500,000 square feet for the use of apparel firms would be an acceptable compromise. There is also talk of campaigning to get more designers back to the GarmentDistrict, setting up “Shop 10018” and “Made in New York” programs, and establishing a Garment Center Fund modeled after the Theater Development Fund.

Patrick Murphy, head of fashion/retail growth initiatives at the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said, “While we don’t yet have an agreement, we are encouraged by the direction of the conversations we’ve been having with the various stakeholders. There are still many details to work out and more conversations with stakeholders, but we hope to have an agreement soon.”

The next step will be for apparel industry leaders to sit down with landlords to try to hammer out a deal. At this stage, representatives from the CFDA, which is negotiating on behalf of New York-based designers, and building owners have yet to meet face-to-face. The same is true of any meetings with union leaders. CFDA executive director Steven Kolb said, “If a deal with the union has been struck, it’s news to me and the CFDA.”

A few industry observers speculated that leaders of the union UNITE HERE are most interested in securing union jobs through the Related Companies’$15 billion Hudson Rail Yards development, especially hotel and restaurant ones, which it also represents, and subsequently are willing to sacrifice Garment Center ones. Last month, a 60-story tower that would be a conference center for the hospital industry and would be the site’s anchor property was proposed. Industry sources also mused about how crucial the union’s support would be to Mayor Bloomberg securing a third term.

Officials of UNITE HERE could not be reached for comment at press time Tuesday.

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