Threadbare Urbanism

Manhattan’s Garment District is next on the rezoning block, with some bright spots for manufacturers

East News Urbanism
Manhattan's Garment District is next on the rezoning block, with some bright spots for manufacturers. The Giant Needle and Button sculpture welcomes visitors to the Garment District. (Peter Burka/Flickr)
Manhattan's Garment District is next on the rezoning block, with some bright spots for manufacturers. The Giant Needle and Button sculpture welcomes visitors to the Garment District. (Peter Burka/Flickr)

Hot off of a contentious rezoning of East Harlem and in the middle of spinning up the Inwood rezoning, the de Blasio administration has once again turned its attention to the Garment District in Midtown. While a previous attempt to transition the neighborhood away from manufacturing failed last year, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a revised plan will be presented any day now.

New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has reportedly worked out a plan, with input from advocates and manufacturers in the area, that would ease some of the area’s restrictive manufacturing requirements and open the neighborhood up to commercial development. A major sticking point of the prior plan, and part of the reason that neighborhood manufacturers opposed the initial rezoning, was that the city had floated the idea of relocating most of the manufacturers to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

From the details that have been made public so far, it looks like the city will lift certain zoning restrictions along the neighborhood’s side streets rather than the whole district, which is located between West 35th and West 40th streets and Broadway and West 9th Avenue. The city will spend up to $20 million to acquire a building that will solely house manufacturing, and developers will be given tax incentives for allocating at least 25,000 square feet for clothing manufacturing in any new buildings. It’s likely that the restrictions on building new hotels from the older plan will be included in the final revision. Under the 1987 zoning code that the new plan addresses, developers converting buildings in the district were required to maintain a 50-50 split between manufacturing space and offices.

The new plan is likely a win for manufacturers looking to stay in Manhattan. Despite the district’s central location, many of the small clothing and cloth shops that lined the neighborhood’s streets have left due to unaffordable rent and overseas competition. The WSJ notes that of the 9 million square feet of space within the 1987 zoning regulation’s boundaries, only 700,000 to 900,000 square feet is being used for manufacturing today. Much of New York’s manufacturing base has already shifted to Brooklyn, with a sizable chunk moving to the Navy Yard because of the ability to vertically integrate their production; the latest rezoning plan is a direct effort to address this.  In a press release, the EDC put forth a commitment to preserve at least 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space in the neighborhood, noting that 25 percent of all garment manufacturing in the city is still done in the area.

“The Garment Center’s unique ecosystem of skilled workers and specialty suppliers clustered in one place is the foundation that the wider New York fashion world is built on. What we’ve negotiated here is a real plan to preserve it for years to come,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer in the release. “This is much more than just a tax benefit program, although the IDA benefits are central.  It’s an IDA program combined with a real commitment of resources to purchase permanent space. This package will help keep the fashion industry anchored here in New York.”

Related Stories