City Planning Approves City-Initiated Special Garment Center District Rezoning

Special Garment Center District, Fashion Avenue. Image Credit: City Planning

Zoning changes will bring many buildings into compliance and will lift manufacturing space preservation requirements. City officials step in to ensure garment manufacturing has a continuing place in the district. On September 26, 2018, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on a proposed rezoning of the Special Garment Center District by the Department of City Planning, in conjunction with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The Special Garment Center District encompasses approximately 13 blocks between West 35th and West 40th Streets, west of Broadway.

The Special Garment Center District was created in 1987 to protect garment manufacturing operations that were at risk of being displaced as a result of industrial space-to-office conversions. At this time, garment manufacturing constituted 41% of employment in this area, and was made up of over 5,000 businesses occupying 20 million square feet of space related to manufacturing and other fashion-related businesses. The Special Garment Center District established a preservation area restricting uses in buildings on side streets to retail, wholesale showroom and industrial uses. To convert a space to office uses in the preservation area required property owners to preserve an equivalent amount of space to manufacturing or warehouse uses in perpetuity via a restrictive declaration.

The proposed zoning changes will eliminate the existing manufacturing preservation requirements, granting owners of illegally-converted offices valid certificates of occupancy and allow owners of buildings 70,000 square feet or greater, to convert their buildings to offices without City Planning authorization and requirement to set aside manufacturing space.

Changes to building envelopes will allow for taller buildings with higher lot coverage which will conform with the majority of the existing buildings, many of which were built before 1930, reinforcing neighborhood character.

The changes also include signage standardization, eliminating flashing signs in the preservation area. Finally, the proposed changes include the creation of a special permit for new hotel development and the rezoning will also ensure that smaller undeveloped lots are utilized for a variety of buildings.

Map of Special Garment Center District. Image Credit: City Planning

In 2005, in conjunction with the Hudson Yards Rezoning, the City already amended the Special Garment District by dividing the previously created preservation area into two, P1 and P2. While the zoning rules remained unchanged in P1, in P2 they were changed to permit new residential buildings and as-of-right conversions of smaller buildings, under 70,000 square feet, to any uses allowed by the underlying zoning rules. Buildings with over 70,000 square feet, however, could only be converted to residential or hotel uses if the property owner would provide an equivalent amount of preserved manufacturing space, or with City Planning permission.

In May 2017, the Department of City Planning proposed the new zoning changes to lift these manufacturing preservation requirements for the entire Special Garment District in response to the proliferating non-conforming office uses in the district and to promote a healthy mix of uses. In exchange, the City would assist garment manufacturers in relocating to Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Eliminating the preservation requirements will enable property owners to receive proper certificates of occupancy and remedy outstanding violations.

The proposed changes received pushback from those who were not satisfied with manufacturers being relocated to Brooklyn, and who wanted to preserve the core of the City’s fashion industry in the Garment Center. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, convened and co-chaired a Garment Center Steering Committee to identify non-zoning based solutions to help stabilize garment manufacturing in the district.

The Garment Center Steering Committee, comprised of a group of stakeholders of the fashion industry and garment manufacturers, labor representatives, community boards, advocacy organizations and property owners, met for several months before releasing their recommendations on how to coordinate more office development as proposed by the Economic Development Corporation and City Planning, while providing adequate protections for the garment industry without relocation.

One of the key goals of this Committee was to ensure real estate stability for garment manufacturers in the Special Garment District. The Committee, with the help of the Economic Development Corporation, created the New York City Industrial Development Agency Garment Center Program to incentivize garment center landlords to work with garment manufacturers in the area. Through this program, participating property owners can receive $1 in tax benefit per square foot for every 25,000 square feet of manufacturing preserved. In exchange, property owners will be required to provide manufacturing tenants with 15 year leases with a maximum of $35 per square foot rent. So far, the Industrial Development Agency’s Board has approved the inclusion of three buildings, totaling 200,000 square feet to the program.

The Economic Development Corporation also established a Building Acquisition Requests for Expressions of Interest  to acquire a building for fashion manufacturers, as the City does not own any real estate in the garment district that would be suitable for manufacturing. The City has agreed to put $20 million and partner with a not-for-profit organization in acquiring a building in the garment center district, which the not-for-profit partner would manage as a permanent, affordable garment production space.

These programs and incentives will not replace the proposed zoning changes but act in conjunction with them.

At the City Planning hearing, Borough President Brewer applauded the creation of the tax abatement and building acquisition programs in coordination with the Economic Development Corporation, but urged that additional measures must be undertaken. She recited additional conditions that should be satisfied prior to approving the zoning changes to lift the manufacturing preservation requirements, including that Economic Development Corporation demonstrate that it has or expects to receive responses to the Requests for Expressions of Interest building acquisition program , and that the City commit to additional funding beyond the $20 million should that amount be inadequate. She further urged that the Economic Development Corporation preserve 180,000 additional square feet of manufacturing space in the Garment Center, and work with landlords in the district to ensure more buildings are enrolled in the Industrial Development Agency program.  She also asked that the City and the Economic Development Corporation monitor and enforce the terms of these programs.

Others who testified in support of the proposed zoning changes and programs created to help preserve the garment manufacturing district, included Ozgur Gungor of the Design Trust for Public Space, Barbara Blair of the Garment District Alliance, Eric Gural, a property owner, Ginny Louloudes of A.R.T./New York, and Cecelia Kushner of the Economic Development Corporation, among others.

Manhattan Community Board 5 and Manhattan Community Board 4 passed resolutions against the proposed rezoning, stating among other things, that additional space needs to be preserved for garment manufacturing prior to the proposed zoning changes being approved.


On October 31, 2018, City Planning voted to approve the proposed rezoning of the Special Garment Center District. The application will proceed to City Council for review and approval.


By: Viktoriya Gray (Viktoriya is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018.)


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