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Made in New York: City Approves Plan to Boost Garment Center Production

Giving impetus to efforts to revive the once-vibrant New York City Garment Center, the City Council has approved a comprehensive plan to support fashion production and commercial office expansion in the Midtown Manhattan district.

With recommendations from the Garment Center Steering Committee, City Hall has created a plan to balance the fashion industry’s interests with those of other industries. The new plan looks to diversify industry’s in the Garment Center, where 66,000 jobs across sectors is expected to grow to 72,000 by 2021, officials noted. Although fashion office space has grown 17 percent in the past five years, 60 percent of the area’s jobs are now in nonprofit, healthcare, entertainment and IP services.

The plan calls for implementing a set of targeted zoning changes and programs intended to give fashion manufacturers the long-term stability they need to maintain their presence in the historic district first developed in the 1920s. Key to these changes are removing decades-long zoning mechanism that will allow the Garment Center to be restored as a mixed-use neighborhood that includes significant office space alongside manufacturing, wholesale and showroom space.

The zoning changes lift the 1:1 preservation requirement that prevented office conversions and led to disinvestment in building infrastructure, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). The zoning changes also include a new special permit to curb hotel development throughout the entire Special Garment Center District.

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“We’re preserving the city’s fashion manufacturing capacity both in its traditional home in the Garment Center and with investments across the city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Today’s vote ensures that the Garment Center will continue to thrive as a mixed-use neighborhood.”

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said the plan will create jobs and investment in Midtown, while stabilizing and strengthening the city’s apparel manufacturing sector.

“By preserving space in the district and making resources available for manufacturers to grow outside of the district, New York City will continue to be the fashion capital of the world,” Glen said.

Additional provisions of the plan will preserve garment manufacturing space, with mechanisms including a customized tax incentive program that requires property owners to provide long-term, affordable leases for fashion manufacturers. It also has funding support for the public-private acquisition of a building to permanently house garment production.

The program has already authorized up to 200,000 square feet of fashion manufacturing to be preserved through the program, with an additional 70,000 square feet in the pipeline. Eligible properties must be located within the Garment Center Business Improvement District, which is generally defined as West 34th to 42nd Streets and Fifth to Ninth Avenues.

The NYCEDC recently released a Request for Expressions of Interest to acquire a building for dedicated garment manufacturing space in Midtown. The city has made up to $20 million available to fund a portion of the acquisition cost of the building.

In an effort to improve and expand the workforce, the city and the Council of Fashion Designers of America will launch a $14 million expansion of the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative. The program, which first launched in 2013, sets out to support and develop a diverse fashion production ecosystem across the five boroughs. FMI provides grants to local production facilities to upgrade equipment and technology, offer employee skills training, hire business development consultants, make capital improvements to their facilities and cover costs of relocating within New York City. Many companies have been recipients of these grants and have been able to use the funds to maintain and expand their businesses in the city.

In addition, the Garment District Alliance has received approval from the City Council to increase its annual budget by $2.5 million for the next 10 years. The funding increase will be dedicated to special programming to support the goal of supporting the industry in its historic home.

“New York’s fashion industry is in a vastly better position today than it was 15 months ago when the city first announced it would rezone Manhattan’s Garment Center,” said Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center and member of the Fashion Industry Task Force. “There is an emerging momentum to bring these strategies to fruition and we are committed to working with all the stakeholders to support the industry’s future.”