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Stakeholders see plenty of upside in Garment District rezoning

Still bogged down with a lengthy rezoning process in the Garment District, the city has picked up new zoning projects in SoHo and NoHo.

The Garment District rezoning began its formal review process on June 11 when the Department of City Planning certified the application. For many years, most of the neighborhood’s office and retail tenants didn’t match the zoning of industrial use. To address the situation, the Garment District Alliance, Borough President Gale Brewer and various area tenants have pushed for rezoning since 2017.

Bound, roughly, between West 34th and 40th Streets, and Ninth Avenue and Broadway, the Garment District was once the city’s prime location for clothing and apparel manufacturing. But the area has grown significantly and now is home to a wide mix of tenants.

Barbara Blair, the Garment District Alliance’s president, said the area has seen many office tenants move in alongside name brand retailers opening on the avenues and smaller boutique shops and restaurants on the side streets.

During a Real Estate Board of New York Midtown South Committee meeting, Blair expressed confidence in the rezoning.

BARBARA BLAIR

“We feel like there’s a huge amount of opportunity when this overlay zoning is lifted,” Blair said at the meeting. “The neighborhood has totally transformed and once you release it from those shackles, it could exponentially improve instead of incrementally improve.”

However, many apparel manufacturers feel they’ve been pushed out of their historic home. As an alternative, the city’s Economic Development Corporation is creating new apparel manufacturing hubs in Brooklyn. The city is investing $136 million into the Made in NY Campus at Bush Terminal that will bring 200,000 s/f of garment manufacturing set to open in 2020.

Also, fashion designer Nanette Lepore announced that she would open a manufacturing and operations headquarters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Building 77, joining several other apparel makers. Several retailers, including Gap, West Elm and Malia Mills, have also moved nearby to Industry City.

And for those staying put in Manhattan, Blair said there are still clothing manufacturers looking for space in the Garment District. Combined with the many other office companies seeking space in Midtown, the Garment District’s value will rise significantly, Blair added.

“We think the neighborhood will increase in value but the most important thing is you’re going to release class B and C offices into the legitimate market for small businesses who want to come to New York,” Blair said.

Mitchell Korbey, a zoning and real estate lawyer with Herrick Feinstein, predicts property prices will rise and the area will see new office developments.

MITCH KORBEY

“By removing these restrictive rules, it will free up the market prices,” Korbey said of the rezoning. “I do think it will ultimately raise property prices and result in greater predictability and a better climate for all uses.”

The benefits have yet to materialize in the Garment District as the rezoning is due for another public hearing at the City Planning Commission on September 26. But the city is already considering another major rezoning for a neighborhood further south.

According to City Planning, there’s consensus among SoHo and NoHo’s stakeholders that the existing zoning doesn’t fit. DCP added that it was too early to talk about any zoning actions, but that they’ve completed a look at the neighborhoods’ existing conditions and are planning out how to start public engagement.

Similar to the Garment District, SoHo and NoHo’s existing zoning is better suited for manufacturing use. But the trendy area has become more known for its ground-floor retail and artists lofts that have either special permits or grandfathered exemptions to be allowed within the zoning.

Even though there are similarities between the two rezoning efforts, Korbey said the SoHo and NoHo rezoning will prove to more difficult.

“The difference is the situation in SoHo and NoHo is a bigger, broader area of the city,” Korbey said. “You have lots of different stakeholders and property owners and the city will be grappling with a different set of nuances and issues.”

BRIAN STEINWURTZEL

Brian Steinwurtzel, the co-CEO of GFP Real Estate and president of the SoHo Broadway Initiative, explained that SoHo and NoHo’s rezoning would be more complicated than Garment Center’s due to the existence of several residential areas.

“SoHo has a tremendous amount of ground-floor retail as well as residential and yet the as-of-right zoning doesn’t allow for either,” Steinwurtzel said. “I think this is an opportunity to help SoHo maintain its vibrant mixed-use personality while having a zoning that allows for these groups to co-exist.”

But the SoHo BID president praised the city’s stakeholder outreach for the Garment District and is hoping the same will apply for SoHo and NoHo to ensure its future viability.

“Manhattan’s most successful neighborhoods are ones where there’s a mix of uses,” Steinwurtzel said. “If you think about the success of Midtown South, Flatiron and Union Suqare, these are areas where residential and retail all co-exist together and I hope the city will rezone SoHo to promote that kind of mixed-use neighborhood.”

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