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BANKS: Garment District has new lease on life

New York’s Garment District has long been both the physical and symbolic center of New York’s fashion and garment manufacturing industries.

But the zoning laws enacted three decades ago could do nothing to protect fashion and apparel businesses and employment in the garment district from global forces. Since the zoning rules were enacted, garment employment has declined 88 percent in the area.

The good news is there’s a creative plan developed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to preserve the garment industry’s presence in its historic home. The two-part preservation plan includes: 1.) Industrial Development Agency (IDA) tax abatement program that will guarantee 15-year leases at reasonable rents for 300,000 square feet of apparel tenancy in participating buildings, and 2.) A commitment of $20 million for the purchase of a building, in partnership with a non-profit entity, to provide space for apparel production long into the future.

Both programs were developed in response to the recommendations of the Garment Center Steering Committee and represent the most meaningful commitment the City has ever made to preserve apparel production in its historic home.

The zoning actions related to this proposal would restrict the construction of new hotels in the area, eliminate the plaza bonus, and modify height and setback and signage rules so that all new development would be at the street line and reflect the existing context of the iconic loft buildings that dominate the neighborhood character. Lastly, the preservation requirements on the mid-block buildings would be lifted.

The economic programs and zoning changes will retain the character of the district as a home for garment production, while at the same time attract a broad and complementary range of uses that will revitalize the neighborhood.

This ongoing revitalization will continue to generate good paying jobs, capital investment in the architectural distinctive loft buildings, and increase tax revenue for the City of New York. This plan represents a win-win for all New Yorkers.

The architects of the reform package deserve enormous credit for advancing a smart and sensible plan. We thank City Council Speaker Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Brewer for their thoughtful leadership. We commend Deputy Mayor Glen and NYC Economic Development Corporation President and CEO James Patchett for their tireless dedication.

The Garment District plan represents the best in civic engagement. When communities, businesses, and elected officials cooperate in developing a strategic plan, the whole city wins.

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