Byline: Leonard McCants / Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — Even as apparel-related jobs in the city’s traditional garment center continued to fall last year, fashion employment, in an area designated by the city as a preservation zone in 1987, remains strong, stated two divergent reports released late last week.
The surveys, one commissioned by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District and another conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network, tell differing tales on the state of the city’s apparel district. With rising rents and the influx of nonapparel-related industries, the fashion center has lost a significant number of apparel jobs within the last five years. The number of manufacturing and wholesale-related jobs fell by 22 percent in 2000, to an estimated 28,776 in an area located between Fifth and Ninth Avenues and West 34th and 41st Streets, according to a draft version of an FCBID economic profile released Thursday.
But fashion employment remains strong in a more compact area, designated by the city as a special garment center preservation district. In those buildings, apparel employment represents 73 percent of tenants and 74 percent of occupied space.
The FCBID report stated that an increase in foot traffic combined with a mix of new businesses moving into Manhattan have made the district a more marketable area. Landlords have caught on and are raising rents an average of 15 to 20 percent higher than last year, which will push the majority of manufacturers and wholesalers out of the area and bring in other businesses such as advertising and marketing firms, along with Internet companies.
In research conducted by Robert B. Pauls for the FCBID, New York City’s fashion industry employment, including all textile and apparel manufacturing and wholesaling, currently stands at 113,838. This number is a 6 percent drop from 1999 and a considerable drop of 26 percent since 1991. Employment in the manufacturing sector is at 67,734, far below 1991’s 104,415 and a decline of 6,600 workers from 1999.
As reported in WWD on Friday, jobs in the manufacturing and wholesaling portion of the fashion industry within the district dropped from 37,118 to 28,776 in 1999. The draft states, the “fashion industry currently represents 36 percent of the total employment in the BID area, its lowest level ever.” This is compared to 44 percent a year ago.
According to the report, asking rents are now set between $40 and $50 a square foot for Class A space along the avenues. In loft buildings along the side streets, the rent levels average $18 to $22 a square foot for manufacturing space and $25 to $27 for loft space when office and showroom space is within the same area.
Meanwhile, with their data indicating that apparel manufacturing remains a viable option for the garment center, members of UNITE and the New York City Central Labor Council, joined by politicians and apparel makers, demanded at a press conference Friday that the city be more aggressive in preserving the heritage of the neighborhood.
“The future of our economy depends on the special status this part of Manhattan has enjoyed,” said Brian McLaughlin, president of the CLC, which represents 1.5 million unionized workers. The NYIRN report stated that the fate of the district may be in jeopardy because 60 percent of the garment company leases within the preservation area will expire by 2002 and the city government “has done virtually nothing” to enforce zoning requirements in the area, resulting in more than 200 illegal conversions of manufacturing space.
It is imperative that the apparel industry — from design and sample making to production and showrooms — remain in one area where each one can feed off of the other, said Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller.
“Fashion is a visual contact sport that has to be together,” Konheim said. “The idea that we don’t need to meet together in one central place is ludicrous. It’s dwindled, but actually the buildings are still loaded with manufacturers.”