Can Sunset Park become New York City’s next garment center?

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Among the hopefuls are the owners of one of Brooklyn’s largest structures, the 1.3 million-square-foot Liberty View Industrial Plaza located at 850 Third Avenue between 30th and 31st Streets in Sunset Park.

“We’re all set. All the infrastructure is here,” said Marvin Schein, co-owner of Liberty View Industrial Plaza with his partner, Sal Rusi. “The building has 160,000-square-foot floor plates, and we’ve completely filled the retail space.”

Schein and Rusi are also lobbying the city for support to subdivide one of the floor plates to accommodate several smaller garment makers, and tenants moving into Liberty View could apply for grants from the joint Council of Fashion Designers of America and the city’s Economic Development Corp. program supporting fashion manufacturing and promoting growth in New York’s fashion industry.

At Liberty View, industrial tenants so far include a 70,000-square-foot Amazon Prime Now distribution center for two-hour delivery in Brooklyn; RedBin, an app-based storage company that will pick up and deliver your items; Trestle Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art space offering exhibition, education and networking opportunities, and three small clothing companies: Maula Heilein, Casa De Moda and Kelly Bakhash.

There is also a mini-mall on the site, occupying 15 percent of the square footage of the mixed-used facility, a key attraction for workers or residents of the community.

Among the retailers, a 100,000-square-foot Bed, Bath & Beyond along with its sister companies Buy Buy Baby; Face Values for discount beauty products, and Cost Plus World Market for home goods. There’s also a 40,000-square-foot Saks Off 5th, Micro Center Electronics, Blow In Blow Out, a food court, lots of Brooklyn-made offerings and free parking.

The mall has an airy, raw, industrial-yet-contemporary feel, befitting its value orientation, and is an attraction for an area where there is a dearth of retail other than the mom and pops on 4th and 5th Avenues, Costco about five blocks away and Ikea, a five-minute drive from Liberty View. Next door, there’s Industry City which houses Design Within Reach, Petco, Li-Lan chocolates and a large storage facility.

About 85 percent of Liberty View’s square footage is for industrial use, as per Economic Development Corp. guidelines, and that space could be filled by garment makers, tech firms or other types of manufacturing businesses.

“We’re looking to excite the fashion industry, but there is a reluctance to move out of Manhattan,” acknowledged Schein. “They feel it’s a community. We want to quell their anxiety about moving here.”

He said Liberty View Industrial Plaza, a former naval supply center warehouse, is the largest building in Sunset Park. “Big trucks can move in and out freely and there’s a huge workforce in the neighborhood.”

He also said a string of executives from major fashion firms and the Council of Fashion Designers of America have toured the site, but there have been no takers yet. Liberty View is competing for tenants with the garment center, but offers rents at $22 a square foot, which are at least half the price of Manhattan sites. Liberty View is also competing with the city itself, which has properties around Brooklyn and is seeking to rent them out.

“We could get 30 or 40 tenants employing trimmers, cutters, designers, showrooms,” said Schein.

“What is happening in Brooklyn happened in the Meatpacking years ago. It was deserted,” Schein said. “This part of Brooklyn is going to be like Meatpacking in the next four or five years. It’s less expensive, well populated, there’s a good workforce,” with many Chinese, Hasidim, Italians and Albanians living in the area. “There’s also good public transportation, and Manhattan is expensive.”

Schein, who grew up in Glen Cove, N.Y., has a public company called Henry Schein, which is a large distributor of medical and dental equipment.

He and his partner Rusi are car buffs and became friends when they met years ago at a restoration garage in New Jersey for classic cars. Their partnership is called Salmar Properties.

Rusi, who immigrated from the city of Diber in the former Yugoslavia with his family to escape Communism almost 50 years ago, is an entrepreneur with a diverse portfolio of businesses in construction and real estate and other sectors, even a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Albania.

“I’m from this neighborhood,” said Rusi. “Liberty View is a perfect fit for this neighborhood.”

Before the partners took over the property, “There were people sleeping in the building — about 80,” Rusi said. “It was dangerous here. There was no roof, no windows. It was really an eyesore.”

The property, built in 1916, was bought by the partners from the city for $10 million. They poured $130 million into renovating the site.

“Sunset Park is a neighborhood where we could grow and expand garment manufacturing, not relocate it,” said Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the CFDA. “It’s a big question that has a lot of tentacles to it. The hub of production happens in Midtown [Manhattan] in the Garment Center. That should remain a viable community of product. As we look to modernize and expand, Sunset Park is an opportunity.”

Last March, the EDC in collaboration with the CFDA and the Garment District Alliance, revealed it will invest around $55 million to strengthen the city’s garment manufacturing industry. The investment covers technology, business technical assistance and workforce development for factories in the five boroughs. Relocation and expansion support, investment in new machinery and technology to improve competitiveness globally, and training and support for workers and technical assistance are involved.

The CFDA has been working with fashion industry donors such as Theory and Ralph Lauren Corp. and getting matching dollars from the city for its Fashion Manufacturing Initiative. Aside from Liberty View, tenants heading to other locations around the city and in Sunset Park such as Industry City, Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush terminal, could apply for grants.

“I do think Sunset Park is a viable neighborhood,” Kolb said. “The argument against it would be distance,” meaning it’s difficult for employees to get to, depending on where they live, although there are some incentives in the city/CFDA program providing travel reimbursement. The city is also investing in improving transportation, including the new ferry system.

Deirdre Quinn, cofounder and ceo of Lafayette 148, said she chose to relocate Lafayette 148 from SoHo to a 68,000-square-foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as opposed to other options in Brooklyn, because the Navy Yard is closer to Manhattan. It sits between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. “The Navy Yard is an eight-minute Uber ride from 148 Lafayette.”

She also said when the company moves to Brooklyn next year, it will be paying a third of the rent it pays in Manhattan, and the operations will be much more efficient. “I will be putting all my employees on one floor versus seven floors” in Manhattan, and there is room to grow there.

The Lafayette 148 store will remain at its SoHo site, as well as some corporate offices. But Quinn is not staying. “I am personally moving to Brooklyn.”

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