Garment District Refashions Itself for a Promising and Diverse Future

    It’s not your grandfather’s Garment District!

    What once was home to tens of thousands of garmentos has become a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood with some of the city’s most diverse tenants, activities and outdoor spaces in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

    Covering an area spanning from West 35th Street to West 41st Street, Fifth Avenue to Ninth Avenue, the Garment District is currently home to 42 hotels with 12 in development, including the newest, luxury boutique Hotel Hendricks on 38th Street. The district also boasts 250 restaurants with a new Wolfgang’s Steakhouse opening early this summer at 1359 Broadway.

    Public plazas on Broadway allow for social gathering, world-class art installations and a rich schedule of public programming, all attracting millions of visitors annually. While still home to American fashion companies, the Garment District’s diverse tenancy now includes 86% from many other business sectors, including media, finance, advertising, technology, nonprofits, health care, entertainment and others.  

    “The Garment District, which once emptied out at 5:00 p.m., is now a lively 24/7 neighborhood,” said Garment District Alliance President Barbara A. Blair. “The Garment District’s rich history still resonates in the district, but we are able to generate new value as a result of our more diverse tenant base in growth business sectors, new retail and exceptional transportation options.”

    The largest commercial office landlord in the Garment District, Empire State Realty Trust, has redeveloped all its nearly 2.3 million sq. ft. and helped lead the transformation of the Garment District streetscapes by leasing to notable tenants including Shake Shack, Urban Outfitters, Dr. Martens, Maison Kaiser, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Papyrus and Rituals along the Broadway pedestrian plazas.  

    “Our new tenants – Uber, IPG, Signature Bank, Mobileye, Sisense, Fragomen and many others – all love being here. The Garment District is the most centrally located neighborhood in NYC with the best access to all three major transportation hubs,” said Thomas Durels, EVP of Real Estate at Empire State Realty Trust. “All our buildings have been completely modernized for the 21st century. The area is completely changed, and appeals to growing companies of all types,” he added.    

    The successful effort to lift restrictive zoning on the district’s side streets – that impacted 11 million square feet of midtown Manhattan space, reserving it for manufacturing – was completed on December 20, 2018. That action will accelerate the transformation of the area and ensure that it more appropriately blends with midtown’s central business district.  

    Under Blair’s leadership, with the support of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Garment District Alliance negotiated a plan that allowed for the zoning to be lifted.  

    “The new zoning guidelines preserve and consolidate key segments of the manufacturing sector of the fashion industry, while simultaneously releasing building owners from outdated rules that had overcommitted space to exclusively apparel-related uses,” added Blair.

    The Garment District, with its stock of excellent class B and C buildings on side streets, is poised to become a dynamic and critical supply for new companies locating to contiguous neighbors; One Vanderbilt, an up-zoned East Midtown and a fast-rising Hudson Yards.  

    In fact, this past January, Brooklyn-based co-working company Industrious signed a lease for nearly 50,000 square feet in Ivanhoe Cambridge’s 1411 Broadway in the Garment District. A month later, Thrive Networks, an IT service provider, doubled its space at Kaufman Organization’s 242 West 36th Street with the addition of more than 7,500 square feet.

    More recently, engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech announced it’s moving its offices to 60,000 square feet in the Garment District. The California-based company signed a lease at George Comfort & Sons’ 498 Seventh Avenue. A major player across New York and locally, the real estate firm has greatly contributed to the changing nature of the Garment District.

    “George Comfort & Sons was a pioneer in reimagining Garment District properties into modern office towers that appeal to tenants from a wide range of industries,” said George Comfort & Sons President and CEO Peter S. Duncan. “We are proud of the role we’ve had in the Garment District’s transformation and look forward to the future of this vibrant neighborhood.”

    Bob Savitt, the founder and president of Savitt Partners, has also staked a claim in the future of the district. Among his own company’s contributions is the popular Skylark Lounge, a rooftop bar and event space on the 31st and 32nd floors of 530 Seventh Avenue. Savitt Partners also manages or has an ownership interest in 218 West 40th Street, 499 Seventh Avenue, 1385 Broadway, and 525 Seventh Avenue, in the area.

     “I have spent most of my career owning property in the Garment District and it is incredible to see how the area has been transformed over the past five years, with everything accelerating over the past 24 months,” says Savitt. “I am more confident in the area’s future than ever before. We’ve seen the opening of over 35 hotels here, along with the appearance of new dining, from casual to high-end, and nightspots that contribute to the area’s vibrancy.”

    The Garment District Alliance also is doing its part to meet the growing needs of the district’s new tenants.

    The BID has enhanced and reimagined the eye-catching pedestrian plazas, a fully landscaped esplanade featuring critically praised artwork and public programming. Running from West 36th to West 41st Streets along Broadway, the plazas feature bike lanes adjacent to pedestrian “living rooms” furnished with public benches, chairs and umbrellas. The plazas have housed some of the city’s most popular public programming, including free outdoor yoga classes, world-class art installations and UrbanSpace’s renowned Garment District pop-up market.

    But it’s the rezoning that Blair considers among the Garment District Alliance’s greatest achievements.

    “A neighborhood’s history forever remains part of its identity,” the BID president said. “But respect for the past must never stand in the way of a district’s future hopes. The carefully devised Garment District rezoning has retained what’s best from yesterday—while building an exciting and varied platform that is already demonstrating the promise it holds for tomorrow.”

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