A Garment District Plan That Fits Like a Glove

New York City’s Garment District has traditionally been the epicenter of the apparel industry for the whole world.

A national decline in apparel jobs, combined with local restrictive zoning policies, have left the District languishing.

Thankfully, the City Council this week will vote on a strategic plan put forth by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer that can jumpstart an exciting new chapter for the neighborhood.

The creative plan will address a long-standing goal of many to preserve the garment industry’s presence in its historic home. The plan has two main parts: 1) An Industrial Development Agency (IDA) tax abatement program will provide 300,000 square feet of apparel tenancy to property owners in exchange for 15-year leases at reasonable rents to apparel manufacturers and 2) A $20 million commitment, in partnership with a non-profit entity, for the purchase of a building to provide space for apparel production.

These two innovative proposals represent the most meaningful commitment ever made by City officials to preserve the flavor of one of Manhattan’s most iconic areas.

The plan will also reenergize the district by lifting the zoning restrictions that have been a drag on the neighborhood since 1987. Created in an attempt to support the apparel industry, the zoning policy restricted permits to expand commercial use on mid-block buildings and prevented owners from making necessary capital improvements to modernize buildings.

But the restrictions did little to slow global forces that resulted in the decline of apparel production in the area over the past three decades. The Garment District languished as surrounding areas flourished.

Nearby Midtown South, which had similar underutilized industrial space as the Garment District, accommodated the economic transformation powered by the growing service economy – and the restrictive zoning meant that the Garment District was left behind. Today, Midtown South would be the 4th largest office market in the country if it were separated from the rest of Manhattan.

In other words, zoning has proven to be an ineffective tool in the fight to protect an industry from evolving local, national and global economic forces. The City’s well-intentioned zoning did not achieve its goal – and now there is a chance to lift the burden and unlock the area’s true potential.

We urge the City Council to support a plan that would stimulate a wave of new economic activity in the Garment District, actively preserving its historical role as the center for fashion, and modernize an area that has been held back by antiquated zoning policies for far too long. It is a win-win for all involved stakeholders. Let’s not let this opportunity to revitalize an iconic Manhattan neighborhood pass us by.