NEW YORK – Today, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer released the Garment District Steering Committee’s final report and recommendations ( Web | PDF), and called upon the de Blasio administration to commit to what she highlighted as the group’s single most important recommendation: that any repeal of Garment District zoning protections be tied to the actual preservation of long-term garment manufacturing space in or near the garment center.
Brewer was joined at a press conference announcing the report’s release by Steering Committee members and garment industry stakeholders including designers, manufacturing business owners, garment manufacturing workers, labor leaders, theatrical wardrobe workers, and others.
Formed at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and composed of herself, Council Member Corey Johnson, the area’s other elected officials, and Garment District stakeholders, the Steering Committee met for three months, hearing from experts and poring over research to determine what changes and additions were needed to support the Industry’s presence in mid-Manhattan and ensure a core of garment manufacturing continues to thrive in the Garment District.
The recommendations came after 90 days of regular meetings and ahead of this coming Monday’s anticipated Department of City Planning (DCP) referral of a proposed text change to the area’s zoning, which, if passed at the end of the review process, would lift a longstanding provision that requires property owners to preserve manufacturing space in the area.
A large majority of Steering Committee members were convinced that the lifting of the restriction without a mechanism to ensure the continued existence of long-term, affordable space for garment manufacturing will put the entire New York garment industry at risk. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet committed to accept the group’s key recommendation: a phase-in provision tying the repeal of the Garment District’s current zoning protections to the preservation of a set amount of space for garment manufacturing in the area through purchase or long-term leases.
“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,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.
“Whether the administration’s garment industry plans succeed or fail is up to them: what we’ve produced is the recipe for success, and the most important ingredient is the phase-in requirement,” Brewer continued. “I’m trying to get us to a deal that will work for the garment industry, because the highly skilled Manhattan garment manufacturers and workers are essential to the success of the whole fashion ecosystem in New York.”
Among the Steering Committee members and other industry stakeholders who attended and spoke at today’s press conference on the importance of a phase-in provision for Garment District zoning changes were:
• U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler
• State Senator Brad Hoylman
• State Senator Marisol Alcantara
• Yeohlee Teng, designer and founder of YEOHLEE, Inc.
• Nicole Miller, designer and entrepreneur
• Anna Sui, designer and entrepreneur
• Representatives of Nanette Lepore
• Representatives and members of SEIU-Workers United
• Representatives and members of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union (Local 764 IATSE)
• Joe Ferrara, president of the Garment Center Suppliers’ Association
• Susan Chin, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space
• Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
The zoning text amendment review process requires the proposal be reviewed by the area’s Community Boards, the Borough President’s office, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. The City Council may vote to approve, disapprove, or modify proposed text amendments.
“With the release of the Steering Committee report, the elected officials who represent the Garment Center believe that while the current zoning needs to be revised to better reflect the realities of the garment industry and the district today, it must be done in a phased approach and only after sufficient long-term garment manufacturing is preserved in Manhattan,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “That is why we are calling upon the City Administration to not remove any of the zoning protections until a sufficient core amount of space is permanently preserved in the Garment Center in Manhattan. This industry is fragile; they want and need to stay in Manhattan. Its entire ecosystem is reliant on manufacturers and designers’ close proximity to each other, and any change to the zoning without sufficient protections will destroy this industry and New York City’s status as the fashion capital of the world.”
“New York City is the fashion capitol of the world,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney. “That isn’t hyperbole. It’s a fact, backed up with evidence from numerous reports I have commissioned as senior House Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee. Our city generates billions of dollars in revenue each year from the fashion industry, and part of that success is due to the consolidation of companies in the Garment District. For this industry to continue to thrive, we cannot simply scrap what is there and expect the industry to continue on as usual. That is why I stand strong with my colleagues on the Garment District Steering Committee in calling on City Hall to protect garment manufacturing in Manhattan and fully support the recommendations we have put forward today.”
“Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has assembled a diverse group of community stakeholders and industry experts to weigh in on the future of the Garment Center, an important component of NYC’s fashion industry and an historic base of manufacturing jobs,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “I’m extremely grateful to Borough President Brewer and my colleagues on the Steering Committee for their hard work and join them in calling on the City to support our recommendations.”
“The New York City Garment Center is a manufacturing hub for garment makers and producers citywide. This historic area must be preserved and protected from rising rents and market forces which would lead to displaced workers and shuttered companies,” said State Senator Marisol Alcantara. “I urge City Hall to re-evaluate its decision to remove zoning restrictions in the Garment Center until adequate square footage has been preserved to ensure a manufacturing hub remains and the Garment District can continue into the 21st century and beyond.”
“Manhattan Community Board 4 thanks Borough President Brewer and her staff for fulfilling her promise of a true community planning process. Community Board 4 agrees with Borough President Brewer and supports the recommendations of the Garment Center Steering Committee,” said Manhattan Community Board 4 Chair Delores Rubin. “The key issue identified by the industry was a phased lifting of the garment industry preservation restrictions. This phased lifting must be coupled with financial tax incentives tied to a land use program to ensure industry stability. This action is needed to protect a unique industrial ecosystem which creates both major economic activity and thousands of jobs for the City of New York. We urge the administration to review the recommendations of the report and return to the community and the industry with a thorough and comprehensive plan.”
“The Mayor has the opportunity to dramatically strengthen the City’s fashion industry by helping the industry to take ownership of the space it needs, allowing the remaining space to be used for new business growth” said Adam Friedman, Director of the Pratt Center For Community Development. “This is no time for business as usual. The Mayor needs to commit to helping finance industry ownership before the zoning is changed and companies and jobs are displaced.”
“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,” said Susan Chin, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space. “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.”
“The strength of New York City’s fashion industry relies on the vitality of its core in the midtown Garment District,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, President of the Municipal Art Society. “We call on the Mayor to continue to protect mid-Manhattan’s Garment District until other safeguards are in place.”
“Any agreement on rezoning the Garment District, must ensure that hardworking garment workers have the tools and space they need to continue to create the designs and trends that have helped earn New York City the distinction of being the fashion capital of the world,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “As this process continues, there must be appropriate level of transparency to be certain that New York City’s garment industry is able to grow and thrive.”
The Steering Committee calls for leaving the manufacturing preservation rule in place until a threshold level of square footage in the district is made available. To accomplish this, the Steering Committee recommends that the City and EDC should:
• Create a mechanism in the zoning text to phase out the Preservation Requirements in sub areas P1 and P2 of the Special Garment Center District. This requires amending the zoning text to tie the lifting of the Preservation Requirements to an amount of square footage reserved for garment production in the historic location of the Garment Center in Manhattan. Under this framework, the Chair of the City Planning Commission would certify that the target amount of space has been achieved for permanent lifting of the restriction.
• Create a custom IDA program. Make creative use of IDA [through EDC] to create a tailored Garment Center program that provides tax relief to property owners in exchange for increased real estate stability for production tenants.
• Advance a framework for a Garment Center building purchase. The city partners (EDC, MBPO, and Councilmember) agree to make best efforts to facilitate and support, the purchase of a property with a combination of public and private funds that would maintain dedicated space for garment manufacturers in mid-Manhattan. Potential owners could include: nonprofit manager, manufacturing cooperative, or condo association.
• Support the role of a non-profit partner. In trying to achieve long-term affordable space for manufacturing through incentives and building purchase, the City should work to engage with and provide funding assistance to a non-profit partner to facilitate implementation and/or ongoing operations. The non-profit could act as an intermediary and assist with compliance or could even own/manage some of the space.
• Institute hotel restrictions in the Garment Center. Create a special permit or other restrictions applicable in the Special Garment Center District to limit hotel use by development, enlargement or conversion.
Other recommendations of the Steering Committee involve workforce development, support for garment-related businesses, and preservation of the unique and historic identity of the Garment Center. These recommendations include:
• Support and develop new & existing talent pipelines. Develop long-term training programs that supply the industry with skilled workers through employer-driven training and apprenticeships.
• Support business planning and marketing among garment manufacturers. Leverage existing programs offered through SBS and tailor where necessary to offer business planning assistance that will position garment manufacturers to proactively enhance their efficiency and competitiveness.
• Develop communications platform to elevate garment manufacturers. Develop a communications platform and strategy, coordinated by the City, industry leaders and program partners, to promote production activities from garments to costumes as well as associated retail opportunities in the Garment Center to audiences within New York City, the country and across the world.
• Enhance neighborhood circulation and streetscape. Improve circulation and movement within the Garment Center to enable garment manufacturers to more easily transport goods and bolster their ability to conduct business, and to better accommodate diverse users of the neighborhood, including pedestrians and bike riders, with connections to nearby transit hubs and adjoining neighborhoods.
• Strengthen the visibility of garment businesses. Enable garment manufacturers and related businesses to interact and find each other through improved signage for businesses, wayfinding, online directories, and/or a mobile application that would serve as a current and historical directory for the district.
• Preserve Garment Center’s unique identity. Strategies to retain a sense of place and historic context could include: individual landmark designation of select significant structures in the district, the exploration of a permanent museum with storefront visibility, and warehouse space for machinery, costumes, designs, and materials that includes an archive component to serve as a resource for students, designers, film and video and print editorial.