Susan Chin, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space

Photo: Ozgur Gungor

Borough President Brewer released the Steering Committee's recommendations at a press conference on August 18 at the City Hall. Brewer highlighted that any repeal of Garment District zoning protections must be tied to the actual preservation of long-term garment manufacturing space in or near the garment center. Read the press release issued by the Manhattan Borough President's Office here.

Garment manufacturing represents over 20 percent of NYC’s manufacturing jobs, with the Garment District as its heart. This historical center of fashion-related businesses in a tight-knit district forms a symbiotic network that developed over 100 years. Combining design, technology and handcraft, this unique ecosystem supports the city’s cutting edge fashion industry in all five boroughs.

The City, through its Economic Development Corporation announced a $51 million package on March 24, 2017, with support from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Garment District Alliance “to help stabilize and strengthen New York City’s garment manufacturing industry.” The package includes “grants to cover relocation, expansion and other costs for businesses that want to move from the Garment Center to Sunset Park” and “offers a suite of services to strengthen the growing Sunset Park cluster of garment manufacturers, including direct grants for employee transportation, courier services and space fit-out.”

As part of this package, the Made in NY Campus at Bush Terminal in that Brooklyn neighborhood, which will allocate a section for garment manufacturing, is anticipated to open in 2020. However, the city would remove the manufacturing preservation requirement in Midtown before the Brooklyn campus is fully established. The certification date to lift protections was scheduled for August 21, 2017.

In a Crain's op-ed in mid-May, we urged the City to undertake further analysis, additional stakeholder engagement, and consideration of other strategies before taking a critical step that may exert undue pressure on fashion, one of NYC’s major industries. We highlighted the Design Trust studies, Made in Midtown and Making Midtown, completed in 2009 and 2012 calling for unlocking the neighborhood’s real estate value while strengthening and expanding the manufacturing infrastructure that is the linchpin of New York’s fashion industry. The reports outlined strategies achievable through private- and public-sector partnership that remain viable today.

In mid-May, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formed the Garment Center Steering Committee with City Council member Corey Johnson and NYC Economic Development Corporation, in response to the City’s plan to lift the current zoning restriction preserving a certain amount of space in the District for manufacturing through deed restrictions. The 21-member Committee included: Design Trust for Public Space, Council of Fashion Designers of America, New York Garment Center Supplier Association, Garment Center District Alliance, Pratt Center for Community Development, Real Estate Board of New York, Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Workers United, YEOHLEE, Manhattan Community Boards 4 and 5, City Council Members Corey Johnson and Dan Garodnick, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and NY State Assembly Members Richard Gottfried, Marisol Alcantara and Brad Hoylman.

In six sessions from mid-May through August, the Committee developed actionable recommendations for preserving the garment industry in the Garment Center. Read the recommendations here.

After the press conference, the de Blasio administration postponed the certification date for lifting the deed restrictions from August 21 until further notice. This success for the NYC fashion industry raised hopes momentarily. The next challenge is to bring the Administration, property owners, and garment industry stakeholders to the table to act on the Steering Committee’s recommendations and develop public/private sector solutions for long-term stability and growth of NYC’s garment industry. That's the only way to preserve both the Garment Center, as well as NYC as a global fashion capitol.

The Steering Committee’s suite of recommendations are a total package, not a mix-and-match menu. The key recommendation to ‘create a mechanism in the zoning text to phase out the Preservation Requirements in sub areas P1 and P2...’ will determine if NYC remains a global fashion capital. If zoning protections are removed too soon, before a target amount of square footage is preserved, we stand to lose this significant manufacturing sector.