By Al Barbarino
Urban planning nonprofit, The Design Trust for Public Space, is warning that “time is running out” to cultivate the Garment District into an economic engine that will create jobs and grow city revenue.
Some view the huge losses in the city’s manufacturing jobs as inevitable, but a report from the group calls on the government to initiate incentives and subsidies to save the industry.
“The Garment District is that rare thing in this country, a truly mixed-use urban neighborhood with industrial infrastructure at its core,” said Susan Chin, executive director of the Design Trust, in the report the group released in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, entitled Making Midtown: A New Vision for a 21st Century Garment District.
“With this report, the Design Trust proposes a model for an urban creative district, one that leverages, rather than replaces, the presence of manufacturing to create real estate value, support jobs, and capture a distinctive identity.”
While the Garment District remains important to fashion designers, vacant buildings and others occupied by businesses that ignore zoning regulations create instability, the report states.
The group argues that the district’s full potential has yet to be realized and outlines 17 recommendations that would retain the 270 factories now located in the District and could boost New York City’s annual revenue by $340 million.
The recommendations include establishing zoning incentives for dedicated manufacturing space; tax incentives for manufacturers; and upgrades to public spaces. The group also suggests the launch of an “NYC Made” branding campaign, offering tax credits for designers who agree to produce locally.
The group estimates that Midtown contributes $2 billion a year to the local economy, and that the Garment District alone generates 7,100 of the city’s 170,000 fashion industry jobs.
The rapid decline of manufacturing in the city is undeniable. 5,600 manufacturing jobs have been lost since Sept. 2009 with 2,500 of those in the apparel sector, according to Eastern Consolidated’s September Employment Alert.
In September 2012 there were 74,200 manufacturing jobs, according to data from the State Department of Labor. Five years ago there were 100,800; 10 years ago, there were 140,300.
But critics say tax and zoning incentives are not the answer, suggesting that the need for tax subsidies points to underlying flaws in the industry, and that zoning changes would only restrict growth of emerging industries.
Adelaide Polsinelli, a senior director at Eastern Consolidated, said that tax revenues lost by additional zoning requirements would be “self-defeating,” countering that new construction and development is essential for economic growth and job creation.
“Funds would be better served in industries where we can be progressive and competitive,” she said. “The highest and best use of this real estate may not be manufacturing. We need affordable housing and newer more efficient office space.”
“Artificial support doesn’t grow the economy for the long term,” she added, referring to the suggested subsidies. “We need to build infrastructure and a solid economic base from which real growth can materialize.”