NEW YORK — “The city seems to be doing everything it can to drive the garment industry out of New York City.”
Those strong words of UNITE secretary treasurer Edgar Romney reflected the sentiment expressed by more than a half-dozen Manhattan manufacturers who testified at a Thursday hearing on the proposed Hudson Yards development project. As reported, the city is considering lifting the zoning rules in the special preservation area requiring that about half the space in side-street buildings in the Garment District be set aside for manufacturing.
For Romney, the idea of lifting that special zoning in the name of economic development seemed illogical given the city’s current economic crisis. If the move is allowed, he said, “the city will force out hundreds of small apparel shops that have supported New York’s economy for years. New York’s economy cannot afford to lose any more jobs.”
Executives from designer houses including Bill Blass and Eileen Fisher, as well as several small contractors, joined him in opposing the change. The proposal has been supported by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, which draws its funding from area landlords.
The Hudson Yards development project calls for a massive redevelopment of the far west of Manhattan, a zone bordered by Eighth Avenue on the east, the Hudson River to the west, West 28th Street to the south and West 43rd Street to the north.
The development plan includes extending the number 7 subway line — the reason the Metropolitan Transportation Authority held the Thursday public-comment period at the Fashion Institute of Technology —?as well as expanding the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
But industry officials are most concerned about the proposal to lift the requirement that landlords in the special preservation area set aside half the space in their side-street buildings for manufacturing uses. The special preservation area includes side-street buildings on West 39th and 38th Streets between Seventh Avenue and Ninth Avenue, and West 37th, 26th and 25th Streets between Broadway and Ninth Avenue.
The zoning regulations have not protected the Garment District from the industrywide trend of apparel manufacturing jobs migrating out of high-wage countries like the U.S. and much of Europe to poorer regions, like Asia and the Caribbean. According to the most recent New York State data available, apparel manufacturing employment citywide in April stood at 32,400, down 21.9 percent from a year ago and off more than 50 percent from 82,300 a decade earlier.Linda Dworak, president of the Garment Industry Development Corp., charged: “It was not the zoning that failed, it was a total lack of enforcement of the rules, which overlooked noncompliant landlords.”
Leonard Bergstein, a consultant on production to Bill Blass Ltd., said lifting the preservation guidelines “could lead to a displacement of garment shops. What will happen to the tens of thousands of people working here? Where are they going to go?
“The garment center still works,” despite its decline, he said. “This change will break it up permanently.”
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