Fashion District sees new design center emerge

by Ira Z. Fishman

New York City's Fashion District, an area stretching from 35th Street to 42nd Street between Fifth and Ninth avenues, continues to undergo a gradual transformation as garment manufacturing tenants are replaced by new users, including young designers, advertising agencies and other creative businesses drawn to the area's convenient location and generally lower rents than neighboring Midtown locations.

While the garment trade remains the dominant industry driving leasing activity in this area of the city, the very nature of the garment industry in New York is changing as more and more manufacturing jobs leave the city for New Jersey and overseas. Some office brokers have taken to calling the area Times Square South m an effort to reflect the changing nature of the area's tenancy.

Just a generation ago, the "rag trade" was clearly the dominant industry in the area, then known simply as the Garment District. Traditionally, entire buildings were dedicated to specialty use: That building was a coat building; that one a dress building, and so on. Those were the days when women all still wore dresses to work and everything was so itemized. Each type of garment was made in a specific building.

By the late 1990s however, a tightening office market sparked by the dot-com explosion expanding from Downtown to Midtown South and beyond began to encroach on the Fashion Center, with its convenient location and accessibility to Times Square, Penn Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Grand Central.

The influx of new office users helped inch rents higher, and little by little many garment tenants stopped doing their sewing and cutting, and even stopped doing their shipping from the area as the manufacturing base diminished. A real turning point came about seven years ago when advertising giant Bates USA took 400,000 square feet of office space at 498 Seventh Avenue, cementing the area's legitimacy for traditional office space use.

That landmark lease marked a permanent change. Little by little, the sportswear and casual wear showrooms began to relocate, and the office tenants began to take over.

But the Fashion business still accounts for a significant presence in the District, representing over a third of the total employment in the area, according to a recent report by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District (BID). More and more small designers are replacing the industrial share of the tenant base, creating showrooms and sales offices along emerging specialty stretches of the District.

For example, a new destination for contemporary clothing designers and their sales centers is emerging along a stretch of West 39th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Leading the way in this emerging corridor is the 17-story 192,000 s/f L&L Acquisitions property known as the 39th Street Fashion Center at 250 West 39th Street, which counts Anna Sui, Shin Choi, James Jeans, Theresa Matthew Studio and Findings among its tenants.

Other emerging design and garment sales buildings along this corridor include 214 West 39th Street, 231 West 39th Street and 205 West 39th Street, the latter which counts Calvin Klein's showrooms and offices as a tenant. Other buildings are following suit, so to speak, and the area is emerging as a true Mecca for contemporary clothing design.

Brokers with a long history in the ever-changing Fashion District like Winoker Realty Company closely follow these emerging centers that are shaping the garment and fashion industries in New York to best serve these emerging fashion tenants, as well as other creative office tenants who benefit from the area's outstanding location, access to transportation and generally more affordable rents than Midtown.

The nature of the Fashion District is changing, but brokers such as Winoker have changed along with it, expanding services and tracking trends to best serve the needs of emerging businesses drawn to this dynamic area.