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Garment District economic package planned to save fashion industry jobs

Tax breaks, zoning changes planned for a district that has lost 85 percent of its firms in the past 31 years.

The Garment Center IDA program would give property

The Garment Center IDA program would give property owners tax incentives of $1-4 per square foot of manufacturing space for 25,000-100,000 square feet. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The Garment District’s future may no longer be hanging by a thread.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, fashion business owners, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation announced a multipronged plan Monday to save the fashion manufacturing factories and jobs in Midtown. The district, which is bound by 35th and 40th streets, and Broadway and Ninth Avenue, has lost 85 percent of its firms in the last 31 years, according to the city.

Fashion entrepreneurs said rising rents and developers changing their preferences for commercial projects — particularly hotels — have further hurt the industry. The city’s plan includes a tax break for owners who lease manufacturing space in the district, and creates a new zoning rule that would make changes to future developments, including an added permit requirement to help curb hotel construction.

Steven Kolb, president and CEO of the trade group Council of Fashion Designers of America, said the proposals would give the sector a big boost.

“What [EDC] is proposing demonstrates hard work on their part and is a positive response to the working group’s requests and the industry’s needs, and it’s a doable plan as well,” he said in a statement.

The Garment Center IDA program would give property owners tax incentives of $1-4 per square foot of manufacturing space for 25,000-100,000 square feet. In exchange, owners must offer 15-year leases with a maximum gross rent of $35 per square foot, and include utilities and other expenses.

The city will also move forward with its zoning text amendment change for the area, which will be presented for certification by the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure on June 11.

The amendment would remove the previous rules that required one-to-one preservation of production space, but require a permit for hotel development and maintain the manufacturing and commercial designations. Once certified, the amendment would need approval from the Dept. of City Planning, the City Council and the mayor.

Brewer and several fashion business owners were not entirely happy with the zoning proposal’s initial form when it was revealed last year, and formed the Garment District Steering Committee to address their issues. However, committee members such as Barbara Blair, the president of the grass roots group Garment District Alliance, said they are pleased with the changes that have been made since.

“This plan offers the best opportunity yet to bolster the economic diversity of the area while offering a long-term sustainable solution for fashion manufacturers,” Blair said in a statement.

EDC president and CEO James Patchett said the compromise “represents a new chapter for the century-old fashion cluster, bringing its long-established businesses and new uses into a modern era that will reinforce Midtown as one of the City’s most vital job centers.”

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