It’s official — the New York City Council has approved rezoning of Manhattan’s Garment District.
After decades of wrangling and dispute among city officials, landlords, designers and long-term tenants — the sometimes warring parties have come to a truce. Thursday’s landmark vote frees up parameters that were put in place in 1987. Since that time under Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, which established the district, landlords in Manhattan’s Garment District have been required to add a square foot of garment space for every square foot removed for some other use.
Garment District loyalists lobbied for a building earmarked for garment manufacturing, a tax-incentive program to enlist more owners and to provide tools to upgrade the industry and train workers for long-term survival of the garment center’s nucleus. Community Boards Four and Five, Pratt Center for Community Development, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Design Trust for Public Space and The Municipal Art Society, have been pushing for Garment Center preservation.
The city’s Economic Development Corp. and the Garment District Alliance Business Improvement District, which more or less covers the area bordered by 35th to 41st Streets and Fifth to Ninth Avenues, have been behind the rezoning, which they feel would benefit the local economy.
As part of the plan, the city will implement a series of targeted zoning changes with real estate and programmatic support. These initiatives are designed to provide fashion manufacturers with the long-term stability to keep their foothold in the district. The plan includes the creation of a 200,000-square-foot garment production hub at the Made in NY Campus in Sunset Park. Under the new setup, the Garment Center’s diversification of industries is expected to increase to 72,000 jobs from 66,000 by 2021, according to press material from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The deal is expected to lead to property tax abatements, a grants program that will support the industry in Manhattan, and the possibility of a purchase of building that would house garment manufacturing. Funding support – $20 million – for the acquisition of a building dedicated to garment production through a public-private partnership is believed to be in place, and programmatic support of businesses and public realm investments are also in the works, a source said. The area’s Business Improvement District may redirect as much as $25 million in the next 10 years away from relocation subsidies to programs that support manufacturing and fashion production in the district. There were some concessions, though. Advocates sought to secure 500,000 square feet in the district for manufacturing, whereas city officials and other groups preferred about 300,000 square feet. The end result is expected to be between 200,000 and 270,000 square feet, sources said.
In wiping away decades-long zoning — that some say was not effectively enforced — the Garment Center will become more of a mixed–use neighborhood, while securing what city officials described as “significant office space alongside manufacturing, wholesale, and showroom space.” Reflecting the neighborhood’s changing base, while fashion office space in the area has increased by 17 percent in the past five years, 60 percent of the neighborhood’s jobs are in nonprofit, health care, entertainment and IP services.
In a statement, the mayor said, “We’re preserving the city’s fashion manufacturing capacity both in its traditional home in the Garment Center, and with investments across the city. Today’s vote ensures that the Garment Center will continue to thrive as a mixed-use neighborhood — and that New York City will always be the world’s fashion capital.
In the city’s press material, the CFDA’s president and chief executive officer Steven Kolb said, “The CFDA is supportive of today’s steps to strengthen the garment manufacturing industry and looks forward to partnering with the sector to help it modernize for the future. We thank Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and Borough President Brewer for working with us through an inclusive process that has helped ensure that New York City’s fashion ecosystem can continue to thrive on a citywide basis for many years to come.”
Kolb was unavailable for further comment Thursday.
Singling out the “strong leadership” of Johnson and Brewer, designer Yeohlee Teng said, “We look forward to initiating the promised programs toward an industry that is forward-looking and robust enough to keep benefitting and nurturing new generations of fashion students from the High School of Fashion, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons the New School and Pratt Institute. We look to the EDC, CFDA, the district’s BID and majority stakeholders to work together to fulfill the vision of a diverse fashion community in the Garment District of the future.”
As production and manufacturing shifted overseas, and more lucrative tenants like tech, media and hospitality edged their way into the neighborhood, the push for rezoning intensified in recent years. After pressure from landlords, developers and other economic interests increased, the City Council approved the change in the zoning that released landlords from late Eighties-instituted obligation. Inevitably, that shift is expected to result in more garment companies closing, relocating, or being squeezed out by other businesses that are able to afford higher rents.
The Garment District Alliance’s president Barbara Blair said, “Today’s historic vote will ensure that the Garment District remains a hub for American fashion while at the same time unleashing the neighborhood’s full economic potential.This is a tremendous, pivotal moment for the future of our city, and I thank the Garment District property owners for playing a critical role in developing a plan that would preserve apparel manufacturing while positioning our neighborhood for continued growth. Special thanks to Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, NYCEDC and the City Council for making this a reality.”
Studies indicate that 7.7 million square feet had been preserved in the Garment District under the 1987 zoning requirement, but of that, about 4 million square feet were either illegally converted or vacated as of 2012. Once garment firms move out, landlords bring in tech firms or other types of businesses that can pay higher rents than garment firms and generate greater tax dollars for the city.
Gural Family Properties’ Eric Gural plans to provide 140,000 square feet of Garment Center space. He said, “The reality is it’s a great day for the manufacturers and both the landlords and fashion designers who support them. These relationships have been ongoing for over 30 years, and it’s great to see incentives in place to make them last even longer.”
The rezoning is in line with the groundswell of redevelopment that is sweeping through Manhattan, especially on the West Side. Earlier this week Google announced plans to spend more than $1 billion for a new campus south of Houston Street near the Holland Tunnel. The tech giant reportedly aims to double its employee base from 7,000 and will occupy more than 1.7 million square feet. The Times Square, Flatiron, Chelsea and Hudson Yards areas are undergoing massive transformation with gigantic construction cranes and scaffolding punctuating the skyline.