Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has criticized the city’s rezoning plan for the Garment District, warning that the proposal may lead to the fashion industry’s exit from New York City.
The proposal, which was unveiled during a community board meeting last week, seeks to relocate garment workers to Sunset Park, Brooklyn and eliminate protections for manufacturing space in the district. Brewer said that the plan would hurt the companies that have persisted in the district. Over the past few years, the area has been home to an industry gutted by overseas competitors.
“The entire fashion industry – from merchandizing to media to public relations to marketing – needs the designers. The designers need the manufacturers and suppliers. Without the manufacturers and suppliers as a foundation, the industry has no reason to be here,” Brewer said.
She also warned that the plan may disrupt the collaborative environment that has allowed Garment District holdovers to survive. “Many of the factories that can move further away already have. Today’s Garment Center is an ecosystem of collaborative businesses with highly skilled, hard-to-replace workers. A designer could visit a factory or workshop once, twice, or even ten times a day to make sure production is going correctly. Garments often pass through multiple workshops with different specialties before they are finished,” Brewer said. “So a plan that eliminates the Garment District’s zoning protections for manufacturing and moves some manufacturers to a remote neighborhood, adding hours or days to the production process and disrupting the ecosystem, sounds like a plan to push the industry out of New York City entirely.
A spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation disputed Brewer’s claim, saying that change was necessary because New York City continues to shed manufacturing jobs.
“We’re not proposing to change the Garment Center’s manufacturing zoning and uses. Designers, makers, showrooms and manufacturers will still call the Garment Center home. But with New York City losing more than half its garment manufacturing jobs since 2000, we have to act,” the agency said.
“That’s why we are guaranteeing affordable and protected industrial space for firms that need a new home to not just stabilize, but grow. This industry has already made Sunset Park a hub because it has quality, affordable space just a short 24-minute subway ride from Midtown. (The) commitment by the biggest industry stakeholders shows just how strong a partnership we’ve built around this vision. This is the very beginning of the process, and we will work closely with our partners in the community to make sure we can keep this homegrown industry strong.”
The city’s proposal would eliminate a 1987 zoning mandate that required an equal share of space for manufacturing and offices in the Garment District. The plan also designated two Sunset Park facilities – the Brooklyn Army Terminal and the Bush Terminal- as landing sites for relocated garment companies.
The plan will be funded by a $51.3 million 10-year support package. According to the NYCEDC, the program will finance endowments such as business grants, training programs and relocation and expansion support.