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Garment District’s economic potential is stifled by zoning restrictions: report

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Just 4 percent of area employment is in the garment manufacturing industry, a report finds

Curbed Flickr Pool/Michael Tapp

As the hearing to rezone the Garment District looms, a new report issued by a neighborhood business improvement district advocates for the lifting of the zoning restrictions protecting the shrinking industry. The report issued by the Garment District Alliance claims that the area’s economic potential is being stifled by the 30-year-old zoning restrictions, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the report, just 4 percent of the neighborhood’s private employment is in the garment manufacturing industry, a decrease from 5 percent in 2015. By contrast, private employment in the district grew by 50 percent between 2000 and 2016 to 134,159 jobs.

The professional and business services sector grew to a workforce of nearly 49,000 in that time. Jobs at food and drink purveyors also increased to 5,952 jobs as of 2016. In that same period, jobs in the apparel wholesale industry decreased slightly to 14,285 while apparel manufacturing jobs fell 68 percent to 5,538.

In August, a Garment District Steering Committee helmed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer released a report calling for the gradual introduction of a rezoning in the area, should it be approved by the city. The report also called for the preservation of a fixed amount of space for garment manufacturing. It also proposed a tax abatement program that would motivate landlords to lease affordable work space to garment production businesses.

“We continue to believe that before we change the zoning and the protections for manufacturing that exist now, we need another way to keep manufacturers up and running in Manhattan,” Brewer said in a statement accompanying the report.

A study conducted by the Municipal Art Society in August found that relocating the city’s garment manufacturing industry to the city’s new Made in NY hub in Sunset Park would significantly increase commute times for Garment District employees. The report also found that 65 percent of Garment District customers said they’d be unlikely to travel to Sunset Park to seek out product.

The report maintains that the Garment District strength is its clustering of businesses, with 85 percent of buyers surveyed coping to visiting more than one manufacturer per trip and 71 percent of owners working in daily collaboration with neighboring businesses.