NEW YORK — A standing-room only crowd turned out Wednesday night for the first public hearing on proposed zoning changes within the Garment District, which, if implemented, could impact the area’s 400-plus fashion firms and 66,000 workers.
The Land Use Committee of Manhattan Community Board 5 hosted the special meeting that started what will be an “ongoing conversation,” according to its chairman Eric Stern, about options for the district, which runs from Fifth to Ninth Avenues between 35th and 41st Streets.
In a presentation by New York City Economic Development Corporation, the issue of relocating some firms to Sunset Park in Brooklyn was a point of contention for several fashion firms whose representatives spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. One contractor said that if fashion companies, already reeling under the weight of a shrinking American industry, are forced to move to Brooklyn, “you will kill it completely. Our staff is not going to go to Brooklyn.”
A lack of transportation options — only one subway line services the Sunset Park area now although a ferry service will be launched this summer — and an inconvenient location for visitors were also cited as concerns, according to speakers.
Lydia Downing, vice president and deputy director of the NYCEDC, and her team stressed that the group is exploring the pros and cons of moving to Sunset Park, but “no one is being relocated, pushed out or asked to move.”
For companies facing “real estate pressures” in the Garment District, this new manufacturing hub presents a viable option.
Sunset Park boasts 265,000 square feet of garment manufacturing with an additional 500,000 square feet of industrial space becoming available this summer at the Brooklyn Army Terminal at rents that average $16 to $25 a square foot. An additional 200,000 square feet is expected to be available by spring 2020 at the Bush Terminal at the same average price.
There is also 2.4 million square feet available in the private market, the NYCEDC said.
Since the Fifties, when 90 percent of all clothes were made in New York, to today, when that number is under 1 percent, garment industry manufacturing in the city has been in steady decline, according to the presentation. And since the Garment District was created in 1987, employment has dropped 83 percent.
A zoning requirement in place since the district was established was also an ongoing discussion at the meeting. Under the existing statute, there is a requirement that any space currently used for manufacturing that is converted to commercial or residential use must be preserved by replacing it with another similarly sized manufacturing space within the district.
But that law has proven to be ineffective and has not protected the industry, the NYCEDC said, noting that since 1987, more than 90 percent of the production space within the district has been lost. As a result, a proposal to eliminate that requirement is being considered.
Overall, the fashion industry represents more than 5 percent of the city’s workforce, or 182,000 people, and its 13,300-plus businesses generate more than $11 billion in wages and $2 billion in annual taxes, according to the NYCEDC.
The group has committed more than $15 million to the fashion industry through programs supporting design, education, production, financing and retail. It works with the CFDA and has awarded $2.3 million in industrial and innovation grants.
The presentation ended with the NYCEDC saying it would continue to reach out to the community and the industry and it urged garment manufacturers to complete an online survey as it works to finalize its strategy for ensuring the future of the garment industry in New York.