About 100 Garment Center tenants poured into Nanette Lepore’s showroom Monday morning to talk zoning with New York City officials.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The meeting was the largest to date, with half the crowd participating in the discussion for the first time. In addition to city representatives, there were suppliers, costume designers and Council of Fashion Designers of America members and nonmembers.

To try to get a better handle on just how many Garment Center tenants are actually affiliated with apparel manufacturing directly or as suppliers, the CFDA and the Fashion Center Business Improvement District revealed they have teamed up to commission a survey of the neighborhood that will build on a 2007 one. Results from the new one are expected to be tallied in seven weeks.

After the meeting, CFDA executive director Steven Kolb explained, “We’re not just going to look at a sewing machine and where it is stored.

“For the most part, people just want to keep a core part of their business here. Now it’s just a matter of getting everybody together [with a proposal] and moving it forward,” Kolb said.

Afterwards, Lepore said she hoped the breadth of the turnout would show city officials just how many different types of apparel-related businesses make up the neighborhood — far beyond the well-known designers and other CFDA members. “Even if you’re using a sample room in the area and you are manufacturing overseas, you are still using the Garment Center,” she said.

City officials highlighted the proposal to earmark a 300,000-square-foot building at 270 West 38th Street for apparel manufacturing, but some attendees deemed that location inadequate. “One building is not enough on its own. We just want the building and more,” Lepore said.

“We need to come up with zoning that will work for everyone,” she added.

Once a proposal is agreed upon — and no one seems to know exactly when that could happen — public hearings will need to be held, Lepore said. With no firm timetable in place, a few attendees voiced concern they might not be able to stay afloat financially if new zoning takes a year to negotiate, which could very well happen, she said.

Patrick M. Murphy, head of fashion/retail growth initiatives for the New York City Economic Development Corp., said, “We are very encouraged by the large attendance at today’s meeting and the active and respectful dialogue on the challenges facing the fashion industry. The city is in the process of analyzing a number of the important issues that have been identified in these discussions and will continue to work with stakeholders to find zoning and other policy solutions that ensure the fashion industry and the Garment Center remain important and vibrant contributors to New York City’s economy.”

There seemed to be two camps at Monday’s meeting — those who are eager to keep their apparel manufacturing in the area and those who are keen to maintain showroom space there, according to Maria Cornejo. The designer, who produces 70 percent of her Zero + Maria Cornejo label in Midtown Manhattan, said, “What we’re trying to do is to protect the factories we work with. They’re the ones that need protecting. Otherwise, it will be outsourced from here.”

Implementing some form of rent control for buildings used by apparel manufacturers would help domestic garment makers be more competitive with international sources, she said. “The problem right now is that everyone chooses whatever rent they want even though it’s called the Garment District,” she said. “The only way to keep manufacturers here is to have it be rent-controlled.”