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City Hall Is Quietly Planning Rezoning Of The Garment District

With Manhattan rents increasing, the city’s plan to relocate the Garment District to Sunset Park may be the life-saving measure.

By Jeff Vasishta March 2, 2017
Image courtesy of Richard Beaven / Zady

New York is undoubtedly one of centers of fashion. But, if plans by de Blasio administration to rezone Midtown’s Garment District are to be believed, designers might just have to trek to Sunset Park to get their clothes made.

Crain’s reported that plans have quietly been afoot for a while to relax protections for Manhattan manufacturers. Right now, landlords are required to lease a portion of their buildings to the fashion industry. Instead, the City plans to create a new manufacturing campus in one of Brooklyn’s fastest growing neighborhoods. Sunset Park already hosts scores of creative businesses in its Industry City complex. The latest relocation is tied to the Mayor’s previously announced plans to build a 200,000, $136 million square foot Made In New York campus to open in 2020 for the film and fashion industries.

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Talk of rezoning the Garment District is hardly new. Mayor Bloomberg attempted to do it in 2009 amid fierce opposition. Being dictated to by the mayor’s office hasn’t sat well with many Midtown landlords who have kept some of their buildings vacant rather than rent to the fashion industry.

With the new Sunset Park campus not opening for another three years and the new rezoning rules expected to go into effect as early as next month, the city has taken pains to emphasize that they are not forcing people out of New York—but merely providing a cheaper alternative.

“This administration is deeply committed to protecting and supporting garment manufacturing across the city,” a spokeswoman from the development corp. said in a statement. “We’re working closely with industry stakeholders to ensure New York City remains a global hub of fashion and strengthening local garment manufacturing is central to that effort.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer isn’t so sure. The covert nature of the rezoning has raised red flags and she told Crain’s that it has been planned with too little outreach to the community. Her office is seeking to delay any formal introduction until more of the potential pitfalls have been hashed out. “This is not a well thought out Made in New York strategy,” Brewer said. “There are so many unknowns, and we could make a big mistake here if it isn’t done properly.”

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The Garment District is located on the west side of Manhattan—35th to 40th Street between Broadway and 9th Avenue. It’s proximity to the Fashion Institute of New York and the New School’s Parson’s School of Design has enabled some of the brightest young designers to have access to factories within walking distance. Clothes for New York Fashion Week’s shows have a short distance to go to make it to the runway.

However, the people working in the Garment District often bear little resemblance to the young fashionistas who might utilize their talents. By Pratt Institute’s count, in 2012, there were a little over 300 factories hidden throughout the upper levels of the Garment District. The owners of these factories are, almost without exception, older men and women from China, India, and Korea in their 50’s and 60’s, who speak little English.

Although it’s a New York landmark and has a rich and storied history, the fact is that, in the age of globalization, the Garment District is dying. In the 1960’s, it made 95 percent of clothing sold in the United States and employed 200,000 people. Now, it makes 3 percent and employs about 21,000 people. Factories within its city limits continue to close up shop. With luxury hotels, offices and condos encroaching from all sides, providing a way out via Sunset Park’s Made In New York—with tax credits for those who relocate—may be a way to re-brand and save face before being forced to disappear altogether.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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