ZONING BATTLE HEATS UP: Rezoning New York’s Garment District — a debate that has been dragging on for decades — is about to intensify significantly. In what appears to be a preemptive strike in advance of Monday’s City Planning Commission meeting, about 40 designers, union leaders and elected officials are planning a press event on the steps of City Hall Friday at noon.
For nearly 200 years, the Midtown West neighborhood has housed the largest concentration of manufacturers, designers and suppliers — the heart of New York City’s garment industry. Those looking to lift the zoning argue that the continued dwindling base of manufacturing (due largely to more affordable overseas production) no longer merits the 1.4 million square feet. In total, the neighborhood has 1 million square feet earmarked for apparel manufacturing and another 1 million set aside for support purposes. Earlier this year New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a $136 million “Made in New York” campus at Bush Terminal in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
Friday’s recommendations have been gleaned from a series of six Garment Center Steering Committee meetings with landlords, tenants, designers, BID officials and various interested parties in the past two or three months. The Council of Fashion Designers of America reached out to members about the event, one source said. Anna Sui, Yeohlee Teng and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are expected to be on hand.
Owners are said to be on board with setting up a Garment Center program under the New York City Industrial Development Agency, which would give them a tax break if there is manufacturing in their buildings. There is also interest in using a combination of public and private funding to purchase a building or portions of buildings that would be designated for manufacturing. Phasing out the preservation requirements in the designated Garment Center is expected to be the bone of contention with city officials. Friday’s effort is meant to ensure that between 500,000 and 750,000 square feet will be secured through the NYCIDA or the purchase of a building before the existing zoning is wiped away, according to a few sources. “We want to make sure we have the square footage before the preservation is lifted,” one insider said.
Committed to the idea that the core of design, marketing and sales is in the neighborhood, Garment Center District president Barbara Blair argued that using zoning as a job retention tool is not meaningful. “This idea that it can only be in one place is just not a modern idea. It is not how modern businesses work,” she said. “It’s perplexing to me why this is such a complicated conversation. You would think that you want to look at your central business district, which is Times Square, Herald Square, Hudson Yards and the [City Council unanimously approved Midtown East] upzoning that is occurring and say, ‘How does this neighborhood fit in?’”