Preserving an Important Industry and a Vibrant Ecosystem
TESTIMONY RE: THE GARMENT CENTER REZONING
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Adam Friedman, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a member of the garment industry working group assembled by the Borough President and Council Speaker. I was previously President of the Garment Industry Development Corporation and worked to establish the Special Garment Center District when I was at the Board of Estimate.
Many people have worked incredibly hard on this issue including the Manhattan Borough President, the Speaker, the President of EDC and their staffs as well as other agencies. The City is on the right track. Eighteen months ago the City was prepared to initiate a rezoning without any provisions for retaining the extraordinary cluster of fashion-related firms in today’s Garment Center.
Now, the City is putting into place tax incentives, a non-profit industry-ownership model and a program to improve the competitiveness of the firms. This is the approach we’ve been advocating for a decade. However, there are many unresolved issues which make it difficult to give unqualified support at this time.
You’ll probably hear today that the zoning failed. That’s not true. NYC remains the greatest concentration of designers, producers, schools of fashion, showrooms, textile and other related businesses in the world. The zoning was intended to preserve this vibrant, constantly innovating ecosystem, not a moment in history. It is a textbook example of the type of ecosystem cities seek to create to grow healthy economies.
I strongly support the city’s efforts to subsidize the acquisition of space by a non-profit which will tenant that space and curate it in the best interest of the industry, a critical part of the ecosystem. It will not be cheap. The city’s backwards sequencing, its failure to first acquire the space and then change the zoning, contributes to this cost. The $20m currently set aside will probably have to be increased by $40-60m for this to be a realistic option. But this is not an outrageous number given that and the City and property owners who should contribute to this cost will benefit tremendously from the change in zoning, essentially a new office district.
There are many other critical issues not yet nailed down:
- The City needs to get a firm commitment by the business improvement district to provide $2.5m/year for ten years to support the industry;
- Next, the City needs to ensure that the $25m is spent to address the industry’s highest priorities. At this point, those decisions are being left up to the BID board which does not include any manufacturers. The spending needs to be accountable to the industry; and
- Finally, the IDA needs to ensure that as tenants move or go out of business, the protected space is re-tenanted with apparel companies and not secretly rented to illegal office tenants;
The city is headed in the right direction but the work is not over and everyone must stay engaged to find the space, to find the necessary funding, and to create a new mechanism that is accountable to the fashion industry and to ensure that the funds are spent in the industry’s best interest.