Posts tagged with "Garment District":

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

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."
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How to save Manhattan’s Garment District

The garment industry—and its district in west Midtown, New York—continues to be underappreciated within a city that has transitioned to one that consumes material goods rather than producing them. As recently as 2009, alternative zoning was proposed in an attempt to consolidate all the manufacturers into one building in the Garment District (see our 2009 article “Shrink to Fit”). This spring, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which supports manufacturers, proposed to eliminate the special zoning laws that promote the preservation of industrial space in the district. This current zoning overlay requires a one-to-one replacement of manufacturing space when (in general) a landlord converts space to commercial use, but it has been loosely enforced. While the proposal maintains the existing industrial zoning, it is not favored by the manufacturing community, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, community boards, or groups such as the Garment District Alliance, Design Trust for Public Space, and the Municipal Art Society, among others. Together, these parties, who have requested additional time to review the proposal, have formed a steering committee in advance of the formal land-use review process (ULURP), slated to commence in August 2017.

The new proposal would also place limits on construction of new hotels in the area, which are considered “industrial use,” but has pressured industrial owners to sell. The city promises $15 million in technical assistance and costs for relocation into city-owned spaces in the Brooklyn Army Terminal ($100 million capital investment) or a future city-operated garment center building in Sunset Park ($136 million capital investment) to be completed in 2020. However, the synergy of the interdependent ecosystem of designers, contract manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors still has an irreplaceable value, even as it erodes.

Two alternate propositions:

Instead of removing the preservation requirements of the District’s zoning, I am proposing two scenarios to sustain the Garment District’s dense cluster of what I call “Vertical Urban Factories.” One approach could be to embrace the District’s organic mix of garment industries and residential, office, and retail space in a unique hybrid building type. Industrial preservation requirements could instead be tightened through “mandatory inclusionary manufacturing,” similar to the mayor’s plan for requirements for housing in newly rezoned areas.

Most mixed-use industrial districts (or “MX” districts) are proven to tip toward residential and commercial development because of the higher rents they command, and building owners profit from the industrial conversion to more lucrative uses. The Garment District is no different; it is an industrial zone, with other nonindustrial uses allowed. But since fashion is a lighter industry, like other niche design-driven industries, it is actually clean and quiet and can be easily integrated with office and residential uses in the same buildings. What if the higher-value residential tenants could consciously support the lower-rent garment tenants (or other light manufacturing spaces) through cross-subsidies? The result would be a diverse mix of making, selling, playing, and living; creating a 24/7 work-live community. The ground floor could remain retail space relating to the supplies that comprise the products—buttons, zippers, sequins, fabrics—while the lower and middle floors, where the showrooms are often located, would be required to be maintained as factories. The upper floors could contain the higher-value showrooms, and commercial and residential units. In reverse, new hotels could be required to house garment manufacturing, and guests could have a unique experience of watching manufacturing from their hotel rooms!

Another approach is to make the garment workers visible, injecting energy into the area with new physical transparency, exposing the industrial mysteries of workers making patterns, cutting, sewing, and pleating fabrics, in what I call the “consumption of production.” The emergence of industry-as-spectacle combines retail with making, so that the consumer also can see into the process from beginning to end, in our experience economy. This would be part of a longtime tradition of urban merchants and their workshops, or even the phenomenon of open kitchens in restaurants, and follows new interests in authenticity. In this new context, it combines another hybrid of retail-factory spaces for urban chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and bakers bringing street life to cities. In doing so, we can redefine and bolster the dynamism and diversity of our innovative and productive city.

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Midtown Missionaries

The Design Trust for Public Space, in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), has announced four fellows for Made in Midtown, a land use and zoning study of Manhattan’s Garment District. Filmmaker Jordan Alport, urban design group Interboro, writer Tom Vanderbilt, and urban planner Sarah Williams will work together to illustrate the connections between fashion industry businesses and the spaces they occupy. “New York is known as the fashion capital of the world in a very specific way,” said Deborah Marton, the Design Trust’s executive director. “The network of things that allows people to be innovative isn’t very evident, though.” To help highlight that network, the four fellows will film interviews with a variety of neighborhood stakeholders, including designers, garment workers, landlords, and suppliers. Their stories will be combined with research that shows how fashion industry businesses are tied to one another and to the district itself. Each fellow brings a different perspective to the project. Alport comes with experience producing story-based visual media with his firm alport.tv. Interboro, founded in 2002 by graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Design—Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore, and Tobias Armborst—engage the complexity of the city through writing, teaching, and professional practice. Architecture and design writer Vanderbilt is well-known for his most recent book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). And Sarah Williams teaches at Columbia University’s GSAPP, co-directing the university’s Spatial Information Design Lab. Currently, the city is considering zoning changes for the area, something that the collaborators will keep in mind during their study. By shrinking the Special Garment District Center, garment manufacturers would have the opportunity to consolidate into one building. That plan is seen as a boon for efficiency, but raises concerns about ghettoizing those same employees and stifling creativity. Meanwhile, in an attempt to slow the dwindling of the fashion industry and encourage entrepreneurs to relocate to New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation is already funding the creation of an incubator for young fashion designers in the district. There is little sense, however, of a cohesive plan. “The city has various ideas for the area, but nothing that presents a clear picture of exactly what’s here now,” said Marton. The Design Trust team is pursuing an aggressive timeline, aiming to publish their findings on an interactive website as early as the end of March. The website, along with an accompanying publication, will guide policies for light manufacturing industries not only in the Garment District but citywide.