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Steering Committee Report Prompts City to Delay Start of Garment District Rezoning Debate

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer

NEW YORK CITY—New York City is delaying the beginning of the public review process on controversial zone changes for the Garment District.

The decision to not seek certification to begin the Uniform Land Use Review Process came after the Garment Center Steering Committee, headed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, issued a report that detailed 11 recommendations and two areas that should be further explored to assist the city in developing a strategy for the struggling Garment District.

Earlier this year the city, through the New York City EDC, promulgated a number of proposals geared at addressing trends in the Garment District that led to a dramatic drop in employment in the fashion sector, along with a movement by some garment manufacturers to set up shop in other city locations, including Sunset Park, Long Island City and Chinatown for example. New York City apparel manufacturing employment has fallen by 83% during the period of 1990 to 2016, according to the US Census.

One of the key zone change proposals by the city would be the lifting of the 1-to-1 requirement to preserve production space in the district, which the city charges has proven ineffective in protecting garment manufacturers.

Some of the key real estate related recommendations by the steering committee were: create a mechanism in the zoning text to phase out the preservation requirements in sub-areas P-1 and P-2 of the Special Garment Center District with the condition that some space continues to be preserved for garment manufacturing and imposing hotel restrictions in the Garment Center. The steering committee’s report states that preservation goals for garment manufacturers advocated by its members varied between 500,000 square feet to 1 million square feet.

“Virtually every garment industry-connected Steering Committee member understands that we can’t scrap our last defense against commercial conversions until we’ve preserved a reasonable minimum amount of space to keep this industry successful,” Manhattan Borough President Brewer says.

The steering committee in its report noted that there was disagreement on some of the recommendations by its members. One organization that chronicled a host of objections was the Garment District Alliance.

GDA president Barbara Blair, president, released a laundry list of objections to the steering committee’s recommendations. However, its most strenuous one was the proposed phased-out of lifting of the zoning restrictions.

“This was an item that not only did not have consensus, but the difference of the positions was also significant,’ Brewer notes. “As repeatedly stated in the process, the GDA does not support any proposal that does not have a “date-certain” term for the removal of the zoning restrictions. While we are supportive of the IDA programs to incentivize owners, and we encourage the city to explore purchasing a building for the industry in addition to what they are already offering in Brooklyn, we do not support any phase-out provisions.”

The steering committee also issued a number of workforce development related recommendations. Other real estate-oriented recommendations issued by the steering committee included the creation of a custom IDA Garment Center program to provide tax relief to property owners in exchange for increased real estate stability for production tenants.

The committee also wants the city to study the purchase of a Garment Center building that would be funded by public and private sources that would provide dedicated space for garment manufacturers in mid-Manhattan. Potential owners of that space could include: a nonprofit manager, manufacturing cooperative or condo association.

The NYCEDC states that it has received the report and plans to review the steering committee’s recommendations before moving forward with the official review process.

“It became clear to us during the process of developing the recommendations that some were supported by all stakeholders while others were not,” says NYCEDC spokesperson Stephanie Báez. “We’ll review the report and determine which recommendations are good policy and whether others can be adapted to support garment manufacturing and help grow good jobs for New Yorkers. We look forward to moving ahead with the formal review process to update the 30-year old zoning in the Garment Center in the months ahead.”

Back in March, the NYCEDC in collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Garment District Alliance, announced $51.3 million package to help stabilize and strengthen New York City’s garment manufacturing industry.

The package includes investments in technology, business technical assistance and workforce development, which will be available to factories across the five boroughs. Relocation and expansion support will be available for companies that are interested in moving from the Garment District.

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