NEW YORK — Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has some ambitious plans for the fashion industry, including a proposal to create a permanent fashion center at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
In addition, Giuliani — who courted Seventh Avenue assiduously during his campaign–
has a slate of ideas that he said could help the garment industry in its effort to maintain a competitive edge against regional or foreign markets.
Among them:
government business services and individual firms.
Creating a “Made in New York” or “Designed in New York” marketing campaign.
Continuing support for the Garment Industry Development Corp.
Creating tax-free zones to stimulate growth in manufacturing.
In an interview with WWD, the mayor said he envisions the fashion center as a place where “the industry can showcase itself,” with presentations such as fashion shows and trade exhibitions. It would be an alternative to Bryant Park and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Officials at the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which has been staging fashion shows at Bryant Park the past two years, said they are also looking for permanent space for future shows. They added that such a center at FIT would be of interest to them, and they intend to contact the mayor’s office to discuss his plan.
In addition, the center would house a museum that would present the history of fashion. It would recognize the industry’s importance to the city over the years and serve as an academic resource as well as a tourist attraction.
“The opera has the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera Company, and sports has Madison Square Garden and the baseball stadiums. Each serves to make New York City a centerpiece for that particular institution,” Giuliani said. “We have FIT right here in the city on Seventh Avenue, and that seems to be a likely place to have such a permanent center because of its convenience to the market and its standing as the leading fashion academic institution.”
Durwood Long, FIT’s treasurer, said Giuliani has discussed the project with Allen Hirshfield, the college’s president. Such a center, said Long, could be part of the proposed Center for Design and Related Industries, which was first suggested in 1993 by Mayor David Dinkins — the man Giuliani defeated — in conjunction with FIT.
The city has committed $5 million to help meet the center’s estimated cost of $80 million. In addition to any trade shows or cultural exhibits the center might house, it could provide badly needed classroom space for FIT and serve as an incubator for apparel firms to develop and test new products.
Long is currently supervising a master plan review of FIT for the State University of New York board to detail its need for additional space and to request state funding. In addition, the college is in the process of surveying apparel firms on their needs in the incubator project and their possible participation in helping to fund it.
Long said Giuliani’s idea of a permanent fashion center is in line with what the college is hearing from the industry on its needs for exhibit space for fashion and trade shows. He said he expects to complete the master plan in the next several months, and is working with the city administration on defining its input and participation in the project.
Giuliani, who raised about $250,000 in a series of Seventh Avenue fund-raisers during his campaign in 1993, said the fashion industry is one of the city’s key business sectors.
“It helps define New York as the capital of the world and the capital of fashion,” said the Brooklyn-born Giuliani. “As we’ve lost manufacturing jobs and industries, including apparel, the fashion industry — along with the arts, cultural institutions, theater, opera and sports — becomes very important in maintaining New York’s image and identity as one of the world’s unique cities.”
Noting the entrepreneurial spirit of fashion firms, Giuliani said he has instructed the Department of Business Services to help individual companies solve specific problems. This might include obtaining financing, easing transportation in and out of the city, or advice on exporting.
He also pledged his continued support and funding of the GIDC. Funded by a combination of city and state grants, and money from private industry and the ILGWU, the 10-year-old group runs programs in worker and management skills training, marketing and export assistance, and technology training and consulting.
Rudy Washington, commissioner of the Department of Business Services, is also working on a marketing proposal brought forth by Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, and the Greater Blouse, Skirt & Undergarment Association, the Chinatown contractor group, to create a “Made in New York” or “Created in New York” marketing campaign.
Washington, whose office serves as the liaison between the fashion industry and the city, has met with Konheim and the Greater Blouse group to discuss how City Hall can help get the idea off the ground.
The approach would likely be twofold: promoting merchandise made or designed in New York to be sold in stores here, and developing a comprehensive export program. Konheim said the local retail aspect of the program would be aimed primarily at tourists, but also at residents of the city and its environs. The merchandise would likely be sold through special departments.
“I think it would be a terrific idea, and I think we should do it,” Giuliani said.
The mayor said he’s encouraged by the job done by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District since it began operations in March.
“A BID for the fashion industry makes a lot of sense and is vital to improving the quality of life in the district and helping the business community to attract customers and market their products,” Giuliani said.
The mayor said BIDs across the city are examples of how the private sector can invest in itself with the cooperation of government and augment city services to keep the cost of government down.
Giuliani feels he’s been responsive to the needs of the industry so far. The former federal prosecutor points to coming through on his campaign pledges to reduce crime — which was down 18 percent citywide in 1994, and 25 percent in the garment district, according to statistics provided by the city and the FCBID — and to lower the hotel occupancy tax. These were two areas that industry executives spotlighted as crucial to give business a boost and enhance the neighborhood.
The hotel tax, which covers rooms in the city that cost more than $100 a night, was reduced to 13.25 percent from 19.25 last year. The tax cut was achieved by a 5 percent rollback of the state surcharge, effective Sept. 1, and a repeal of the 1 percent city hotel occupancy tax.
“We’re continuing to work on reducing the size of government, we’re looking at further tax reductions and other efforts that are pro-business,” Giuliani said.
The mayor said the erosion in the apparel manufacturing base is a major concern, and he would support efforts to create low-tax or tax-free zones for manufacturing, which in turn would stimulate job growth and investment in depressed communities.
He admits this type of program would take the cooperation of the state and federal governments, with the city “an active participant.
“I think the theory of offering tax breaks to stimulate job growth is consistent with what I’ve heard from Albany and Washington,” Giuliani said. “I will push for these types of programs with the state and federal governments.”
The 50-year-old Giuliani said apparel manufacturing is “in his blood,” noting that his grandmother was a seamstress on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and an early member of the ILGWU.
Sizing up his first year in office, the 107th mayor of New York said it has “largely been enormously satisfying.”
“I feel we’ve made progress in a number of areas, particularly in the effort to improve the quality of life by targeting specific crimes and improving specific services,” Giuliani said.
“We’ve also made progress on reducing the size of government and reducing the tax burden. The reaction from the people has generally been positive, and that’s very satisfying.”
Although rumors persist, Giuliani said he has no plans to run for the U.S. Senate or for governor. He said he has held some fund-raisers, including one at the Nicole Miller offices on Seventh Avenue that brought in $60,000 for Friends of Giuliani, but he has not yet formally announced that he would run for a second term in 1997.
“I haven’t officially decided to do it, but I hope I’ll be able to,” Giuliani said. “Right now my only plans are to run New York City.”