Industry Tells NY’s New Mayor What It Wants

NEW YORK -- When Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York's new mayor, cited the fashion industry in his inaugural address last week as one part of the city's "heart and soul" that needed attention, he sounded a resonant chord on SA.<BR><BR>Now, the industry is...

NEW YORK — When Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York’s new mayor, cited the fashion industry in his inaugural address last week as one part of the city’s “heart and soul” that needed attention, he sounded a resonant chord on SA.

Now, the industry is calling on him to make good.

First on the agenda, say manufacturers, should be a strong effort to reduce crime in the garment center and increase public safety.

If Giuliani is successful in making the fashion district — and the city in general — a safer, cleaner place for New Yorkers and visitors, industry executives say he will have done a lot.

In addition, fashion executives — particularly in the manufacturing sector — would like Giuliani to provide incentives for businesses to stay in New York, and to generally be responsive to industry needs and problems. They want an administration that, as Liz Claiborne’s Jerome Chazen put it, can “make things happen.”

Many in the industry believe Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, is the right man to help bring back out-of-town retailers who have been scared off by the high-crime image of the city.

Giuliani campaigned heavily in the garment district, holding a series of fund-raisers and seeking advice and support. He called for a reduction of the hotel occupancy tax to attract tourism and buyers, and on Monday, Christyne Lategano, press secretary for Giuliani, said that a reduction in the hotel occupancy tax was “the first order of business.”

“Second would be a rollback of the tax on small business,” she said, something that would also help many companies in the fashion industry.

Asked what they wanted to see highest on Giuliani’s agenda, a cross section of industry executives — from manufacturers to retailers (local and out-of-town) and textile suppliers — had this to say.

Frank Mori, president and chief executive officer of Takihyo, part owner of The Donna Karan Co. and owner of Anne Klein Cos.: “It’s a very simple answer: Clean up the garment district. Make it free of crime and unsavory characters. Our people are afraid to work late, even to go out much during the day. As for my second request, see number one.”

Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America: “The first thing I would like to see is a serious and helpful attitude from the city of New York and an awareness of the scope and size of our industry. Secondly, I would like to somehow find some funds to help us grow, such as sponsoring fashion shows, helping to find space within the parameters of the large real estate world for such shows, just like the governments do in Paris and Milan. Thirdly, I would like the city to find ways to encourage the new immigrants to stay here and grow within our industry and city through employment opportunities.”

Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s: “One of the most important things to do is to make the streets cleaner and safer for people who want to shop. The peddler situation is a horror, not only for people that live here. It’s a disastrous situation for tourists, whose impression of New York is one of being hawked at and having difficulty getting into stores.

“How do you make stores more inviting? The one thing the mayor can do is make the streets cleaner and safer. To walk down Lexington Avenue or Fifth Avenue and to find it difficult to walk into stores and feel harassed is terrible.”

Gould’s own solution to the peddler problem: Create a zone specified by the city in which street merchants with permits could operate legitimately.

Jerome A. Chazen, chairman and ceo of Liz Claiborne: “I think what I would want most is a point of view on the part of the mayor that New York City should be the fashion capital of the world. If he goes in with this in mind, then all of the things he and others talk about will come about in due course.

“If issues come up such as safety in the streets, lowering the hotel tax or supporting tent shows in Bryant Park, and his priority is to make New York the fashion capital, then the right actions will be taken. I would like to see somebody in the administration — I would like that to be Giuliani himself — overseeing the fashion industry with the power to make things happen. Then some of the things that seem so difficult may just come about.”

Burt Tanksy, chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman: “I’d like to see the city a safer, cleaner, friendlier place. I want the Giuliani administration to bring in more business and more conventions, and encourage the businesses that are here to stay.”

Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel: “Speaking as both a vendor and a retailer, I feel it is crucial that we have a mayor who understands the need to support business and to build momentum again for New York as a tourist mecca. New York right now appears down-at-the-heels. You don’t exactly get a feeling of confidence from walking around. There are issues of safety and cleanliness that need to be addressed in order to bring back that sparkle and attractiveness.

“I think [former mayor David] Dinkins did a good job of stopping the slide. But we need to start climbing again. I think Giuliani understands this and he’s the perfect man for the job. The business community seems to be quite pleased that he’s moving into Gracie Mansion. I think he’s going to put 101 percent into the job.”

Terry Lundgren, chairman and ceo of Neiman Marcus: “Supporting some sort of stipend or grant program for young designers to have the opportunity to show first collections to retail buyers and media would be beneficial.”

Lundgren said he hopes Giuliani would continue to support the tent shows for the New York collections.

“The city’s services last fall really facilitated the whole week and made things much easier and time efficient.”

He also wants the city to place more emphasis on safety in the garment district, especially after dark.

Leonard Lauder, president and ceo of the Estee Lauder Cos.: “The arts are New York City’s crown jewels. Support of the arts will make New York a better place to live — and to visit.”

Lauder added that Giuliani should make sure the highways leading into Manhattan from the airports are “kept clean and shiny so that everyone coming into New York sees our best, rather than worst, side.”

Gerald Solovei, president of Scaasi Boutique and president of the New York Fashion Council: “The number one thing is to clean up the streets and make this city the safest place. Number two is to build up the economy of the city. It will bring in buyers and tourists and business. If he can do these two things, the rest will fall into place.”

John J. Pomerantz, chairman and ceo of The Leslie Fay Cos.: “If the new mayor is true to his word and really focuses on fighting crime, that would be good not only for Seventh Avenue, but for the quality of life in the city as a whole.”

Jay Mazur, president of the ILGWU: “What I want from the new mayor is what I wanted from the old mayor, and that is recognition of the importance of the apparel industry in New York, which employs more than 100,000 people, with a payroll of more than $2 billion, revenues of $14 billion, and provides for millions of dollars of tax revenues in the city and the region each year.

“I would like the mayor to promote the industry and encourage buyers to come here to the fashion capital of the world. I would like to see him promote the potential growth of the contractor industry and help make the retailers understand the importance of keeping jobs here. He’s indicated that he’s interested in doing all these things, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his knowledge of the industry and his understanding of the issues.”

Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, a member of Giuliani’s transition advisory committee and a campaign fund-raiser: “My biggest wish is that Giuliani is able to do what he’s promised. I’ve recommended to [deputy mayor] Peter Powers and Giuliani a plan that doesn’t require direct funding by the city. It creates jobs in New York by linking manufacturing companies with the infrastructure that already exists, including the fashion schools, the contractors and the retailers.

“What we need Giuliani to do is be a salesman and sell the idea of ‘Made in New York’ to stores like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, A&S, Saks, Lord & Taylor and The Limited. Tell them we have Hong Kong on the Hudson right here, and if they pump money into manufacturing here instead of overseas, it will create more jobs and more potential customers for their stores.

“I’ve said I would like a commissioner of fashion, but not if it creates more bureaucracy. We need some liaison between City Hall and the garment industry. If that falls under John Dyson, who’s the deputy mayor for economic development, then that’s OK, too.”

Kenneth Zimmerman, president and ceo of Kenar Enterprises: “Stop the crime and make it safe, and try to come up with ideas on how to make it affordable for buyers to come to New York. Things like the hotel tax, for instance, make doing business here so expensive.” Sally Krieger, vice president of Augustus Clothiers: “We have high expectations for the new mayor. We need a safer Seventh Avenue, because the streets have gotten so bad. I would like to see him become more involved with companies like ours that manufacture here and keep people in the city employed. It’s not easy to manufacture here because of the high costs, and I’d like to see the mayor provide some tax relief to keep companies here.”

Josh Lipman, president of Cuddlecoat: “The city should become more involved with maintaining whatever manufacturing base is left in the city, whether it’s through programs, grants or rebates. I would also like to see a repeal of the rent occupancy tax, which Giuliani said he would do during the campaign. The safety factor is important not just for those of us that work in the garment district, but we also want the area to appear to be safe so that buyers will come to the city.”

Morris Marmalstein, president of The Warren Group: “He has to work on making the city and the garment district more attractive for out-of-town buyers. More and more, our customers are saying they don’t feel comfortable coming here. If you make the area and the city safer, then everything else will fall into place.”

Cynthia Rowley, dress designer: “Definitely, cleaning up crime is the main thing. Out-of-town buyers don’t like to come to New York. It’s too scary here for a lot of those people from smaller towns.”

Steve Levine, group show director at Conference Management Co., which produces the Fashion Accessories Expo: “The hotel occupancy tax in New York City is now over 20 percent, the highest in the country. Repealing it would lower the cost of doing business in the city and afford more buyers the opportunity to come here.”

Judith Leiber, handbag designer: “If the city was more secure, our out-of-town buyers would feel more comfortable moving about town, hopefully helping retail business as well as wholesale business.”

Lower real estate taxes would be a boon, she added.

Abe Chehebar, president and ceo of Accessory Network: “When Mr. Giuliani visited our offices during the campaign, he indicated that a priority of his would be to lower the hotel tax. We’d like to keep him to his word.”

Peter Frank, division manager, sportswear, Malden Mills Industries, and executive vice president of the Knitted Textile Association: “I would tell the mayor of the need to make our streets in the garment district safer for ourselves, our employees and our customers. If the streets were cleaned and made safer, and it was publicized, it would help our entire industry.”

Jim Casey, president of the fibers division of Wellman Inc.: “One only has to see what’s happened to Wall Street and the number of companies that have moved to New Jersey to comprehend that we have a problem. Mr. Giuliani has to work on some incentives — be they tax, real estate, whatever — to keep those companies here.”

Casey added that Giuliani should take a look at “whatever Plano, Texas, did to get J.C. Penney.”

David Caplan, president and ceo of Metro Fabrics: “The future of the textile and apparel industry here is strictly going to be through Quick Response. What he should do is take places like the South Bronx, and through tax abatements and by making land available, work to establish state-of-the-art printing, dyeing and finishing plants. They would be able to service the sewing that’s done in Chinatown, Brooklyn and Queens. Modern, clean and efficient facilities right here would really give this industry a shot in the arm.”

Robert Brady, president of Parfums Givenchy: “Giuliani seems to understand that business has to be on better footing overall, because he’s seen the outflow of taxable business entities. I would think that taxes are going to be brought down across the board. We also desperately need to see an increase in capital spending. There’s been a feeling of stagnation. It’s a psychological problem that needs to be turned around.”

Tom Cusick, president of The Fifth Avenue Association: “The mayor has taken a public position to cut the 5 percent tax on hotel rooms that cost over $100 a night, and we’re with him on that.

“We’d also like the state law controlling street vendors to be made permanent…and we’re asking Giuliani to support us in that effort. The issue is that there is a sunset clause. The legislation expires in 1995.”