CITY HALL — The city is postponing its controversial plan to introduce zoning changes in the Garment District — just days before the Department of City Planning was scheduled to review it, a spokeswoman said.
At a press conference Friday morning, elected officials, Garment District workers and designers including Anna Sui asked the city’s Economic Development Corporation to set aside space for manufacturers in the Garment District and ensure “real estate stability” for its businesses before it moves ahead with a plan to eliminate preservation rules for manufacturing in the area.
City Planning was slated to review the proposal on Monday, Aug. 21, but a few hours after Friday's press conference, an EDC spokeswoman confirmed the department would be postponing the review "to provide more time to work with stakeholders and review proposals."
The city hasn't set a new date for the start of the review process, the spokeswoman added.
EDC's proposal had included eliminating a rule requiring building owners to preserve manufacturing space in the Special Garment Center District, and providing incentives for manufacturers interested in relocating to Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
But advocates who attended Friday morning's press conference presented a series of recommendations devised by an advisory committee formed in May called the Garment Industry Steering Committee, saying they hoped the city would review and accept them.
At the top of the list was a “phase in” method that would only see zoning changes implemented after preservation efforts had gone into effect, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said.
“We cannot get rid of the current zoning protections from the Garment District until we are sure enough space is preserved for the manufacturers who need to stay in Manhattan,” said Brewer, who chaired the committee.
Manhattan must continue to be the “hub” for garment manufacturing if the fashion industry in New York City is going to survive, she added.
The committee suggested the city include a stipulation in its zoning text requiring a certain amount of square footage be set aside for garment production before restrictions are lifted, Brewer said.
A report released by the committee suggested that around 500,000 to 750,000 square feet of space be set aside, she noted.
The city could also offer tax incentives to property owners who provide stable leases for production tenants, as well as purchase one or more buildings in the district that would serve as long-term homes for manufacturers, Brewer said.
The committee had identified two suitable buildings in the district that are currently up for sale, Brewer said, but her spokesman didn’t immediately provide their addresses.
Ahead of the press conference, Garment District Alliance president Barbara Blair — who has been a staunch supporter of the zoning changes — released a statement arguing the committee’s recommendations included several “flawed premises,” including the notion that real estate, rather than global competition and business decisions, was the main reason for the “failings of the manufacturing sector of the industry.”
“It is a clear, indisputable fact that apparel manufacturing jobs have declined for over 50 years, without any appreciable impact from the zoning,” she wrote, adding that the Alliance objects to any plan that doesn't have a set date for removing the the zoning restrictions.
But Garment Center Supplier Association president Joseph Ferrara on Friday refuted the notion that the industry is “failing.”
“The word fail does not exist when it comes to Garment Center manufacturing — we don’t acknowledge that word,” he said. “This is a very resilient industry.”
The Garment District “will live or die based on real estate guarantees,” Assemblyman Richard Gottfried added.
“Everything else is secondary,” he said. “If there is no guarantee through zoning, or through purchase to keep the space, then the space will go to people who pay more money… and we will lose the entire garment industry.”
Stakeholders including Sui, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the city’s plans.
“My whole career has been in the Garment Center — I’ve probably had a job in every building in that area,” she said.
“And if that area is broken up, I don’t think that we can really survive transferring to a distant place.”