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Garment District rezoning could lead to industry's demise in NYC: survey

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Garment manufacturers in the district think moving its central hub to Sunset Park would be disastorous for the industry

Curbed Flickr Pool/Michael Tapp

The Department of City Planning will soon vote on whether or not to advance the city’s agenda to rezone the Garment District, a move that will allow zoning rules that have protected the longtime area of industry to be swapped out for real estate interests.

In the lead up to the August 21 vote, the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) has released the result of a survey circulated among Garment District workers that suggest the rezoning, and the city’s plan to relocate the industry to Sunset Park, will have disastrous affects on the garment manufacturing industry.

The findings are based on a small sample of Garment District businesses, but are insightful in their resolve against the rezoning. Nearly 2,000 surveys were distributed to businesses throughout the Garment District, and 234 responses were calculated. Ninety six individuals responded to the survey.

The report found that relocating the city’s center of garment manufacturing would significantly distance its employees from their place of work. Less than one percent of those who responded to the survey live in Brooklyn, with 35 percent of those surveyed living outside of the five boroughs.

Over 80 percent of those surveyed reported that relocating the Garment District’s main hub to Sunset Park would increase their commute time by 45 to 90 minutes.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said they’d be unlikely to follow their job to the Made in NY hub in Sunset Park. Sixty-five percent of Garment District customers said they’d be unlikely to travel to Sunset Park to seek out product.

Both customers of and owners within the Garment District suggested that the area’s biggest strength is its clustering of business, with 85 percent of buyers visiting more than one manufacturer per trip and 71 percent of owners working in daily collaboration with neighboring businesses.

“The future of the city’s fashion industry is at stake. Our surveys show that the City’s plan for the Garment District is grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of this industry, a rare, thriving manufacturing enclave in Manhattan,” said president of MAS Elizabeth Goldstein. “An economic sector this significant to New York should not be made vulnerable. These entrepreneurs and skilled workers—mostly immigrants and mostly women—have made New York the capital of the fashion industry. They must have the opportunity to remain in the Garment District.”

As for remaining in the Garment District, 84 percent of owners said that they thought rent stabilization measures would be the most helpful in allowing them to maintain their businesses in the neighborhood. On top of that, 80 percent of owners said they’d remain in the neighborhood even if that meant consolidating into a smaller area of buildings with long-term lease protections.

Just shy of 100 percent of those surveyed think its beneficial to their business to be located within the Garment District.

The plan to rezone the Garment District grew out of a Bloomberg-era proposal that contended that preserving production space for garment companies and workers no longer makes sense as those jobs continue to dry up.

The rezoning would make it easier for landlords to spruce up their buildings and convert manufacturing space to office space. Under the current zoning, property owners must maintain an equal amount of space in the district for the garment industry as they do commercial space of other kinds.

The August 21 vote will signal the commencement of the proposal’s public review process, the Wall Street Journal notes.