NEW YORK — In what is a sure sign of New York City officials’ plans to map out rezoning plans, a Garment Industry Steering Committee has been formed.
New York City deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and City Council member Corey Johnson revealed the news today. Taking a page from the East Midtown Steering Committee, the garment-centric one will be headed up by Brewer. Over the next three months, the objective will be to engage stakeholders in the Garment District and New York’s fashion and garment industries; devise a plan to ensure that sufficient long-term space in mid-Manhattan remains available for garment manufacturers in the years to come, and expand upon the city’s existing plans for boosting the garment manufacturing industry.
With summer coming, the Department of City Planning will start the formal review process for potential zoning changes at the Aug. 21 city planning review session. Recommendations from the steering committee will be submitted beforehand. Brewer predicted Wednesday that the “a plan we can all be proud of” should be expected by late August.
Yeohlee Teng, a longtime proponent of the Garment District, said Wednesday, “I think it’s a terrific thing and a big win for Gale Brewer on behalf of Manhattan. Hopefully the steering committee will lead to very viable solutions for the Garment Center. There has to be a plan going forward that will help sustain the cluster that is there because all fashion businesses depend on the cluster, especially start-ups, entrepreneurs and students. I think the city and EDC are skilled enough that they will come up with a more workable plan.”
While Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for a $136 million “Made in New York” campus at Bush Terminal in Sunset Park triggered cheers from many, other midtowners are concerned about how the spotlight on Brooklyn will affect apparel manufacturing. At play is about 1 million square feet that has been earmarked for apparel manufacturing and another 1 million set aside for support purposes. While Broadway and Seventh Avenue are the main thruways, the district runs from Fifth to Ninth Avenues stretching from 35th to 41st Streets. New York’s fashion industry sustains 900-plus companies generating $98 billion in annual revenues and creating more than 180,000 jobs. To try to start to imagine the Garment District’s future, a town-hall-style meeting was held in late March with city officials. Various mayoral administrations have battled over how to rezone the neighborhood in recent decades.
Calling for “a new approach to get this industry thriving again,” Glen said, “I want to see the Garment District not just survive, but thrive as a critical hub, even as we grow the industry in other parts of the city. There is more and more consensus that the outdated preservation requirement has not proven effective at securing this industry the affordable, quality manufacturing space it needs. Thirty years of continuous job losses prove it.”
Critics noted that the attrition of Garment District jobs has been due to American manufacturing jobs being outsourced to countries with cheaper labor costs, not due to Garment District zoning. Alluding to the notion that “the big boys” are controlling the rezoning discussion, one source, who asked not to be named, said many of the independent fashion operations — the bulk of which have 10 employees or less — have been left in the dark. In addition, in anticipation of the neighborhood’s rezoning, many landlords are delaying renewals for factories whose leases will run out at the end of the summer, a source said.
The fact that the Municipal Art Society has taken on the task of conducting a grassroots survey in Korean, Chinese, Spanish and English — and not the city — has not gone over well with some. “Now the industry is charged with three months to come up with a solution that the city has already spent a year on with a great deal of money on and all kinds of experts,” one source said.
“We believe in New York City’s future, not just as a capital of fashion design and marketing, but of homegrown garment manufacturing. That’s why we’ve invested more than a quarter-billion dollars in the industry,” she said.
Citing the city’s investment in new, quality space in Brooklyn with affordable, long-term leases, Glen also singled out capital grants that will help fashion firms get the high-tech equipment they need to compete. In late March, the New York City Economic Development Corporation in collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Garment District Alliance, unveiled an investment of $51.3 million to “help stabilize and strengthen the garment manufacturing industry in New York City.”
Referring to the manufacturing preservation requirement in the Garment District’s zoning as “a flawed mechanism for actually protecting garment manufacturing in Manhattan,” Brewer said, “The one thing experts and business owners keep telling me is this: the Garment Center is a complex web of businesses that fit together. Some may be better off in Brooklyn, but some need to stay in Manhattan — and we must maintain a core of manufacturing space in Manhattan for them to do so. We need to determine how much space is necessary and the best way to acquire or preserve that space.”