Sunset Park is about to become a very fashionable neighborhood.
The city aims to create a fashion hub in an empty industrial building on Third Avenue, but locals fear it will seed gentrification.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation is spending $3.5 million to build out an entire floor of the privately owned Liberty View Industrial Plaza to create a fashion incubator and workforce development center, officials announced on Dec. 4.
The private group Manufacture New York will operate the hub, which city officials say will eventually provide 300 new jobs in 20–30 businesses. A top official said the city chose the neighborhood not just because of its building stock, but also for its cachet.
“There’s no better place than here in Sunset Park,” said Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development. “This is the cool, urban, hip area. We want every fashion-forward, cool, hip, urban kid in every borough in this city to feel that they can be part of this.”
The head of a local community organization said the proposal sounds good, but she fears rising rents may render the neighborhood a fashion victim.
“Clearly a blue-collar community is not against jobs, but these industries come with taste. People want to live locally and walk to work, and with that comes zoning changes,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre of the social justice group Uprose.
Glen said the hub is meant to lift up the surrounding community.
“We want to make sure the folks in Sunset Park are included,” she said. “These are quality jobs, so we’re going to invest in the skills necessary for people to be in this industry.”
The workforce-development program will train 1,000 people a year in various aspects of textile manufacturing and the program will be open to just about anybody, according to an executive at Manufacture New York.
“It will literally be ‘Did you graduate high school?’ ” said Manufacture New York founder Bob Bland.
The project was years in the making. The city bought the building, which sits between 30th and 31st streets on Third Avenue, from the federal government for $10 million in 2011 and sold it on to Salmar Properties at cost. Salmar has put $100 million into the building, installing fiber-optic networking and bringing the building up to fire codes, co-founder Marvin Schein said.
The Economic Development Corporation is spending $3.5 million to build out one floor of the eight-story structure — roughly the area of a city block. The hub will also include a research and development center and a small-run factory for fabric samples. The Corporation is a quasi-governmental entity funded mainly through city subsidies and grants, with a mission of stimulating economic growth. Salmar will lease out the rest of the space itself, but the prices will be comparatively low at $15 per square foot, Schein said.
Rents average $30–$40 per square foot for industrial space in Manhattan and $20–$30 per square foot in East Williamsburg, according to commercial real estate website loopnet.com.
Two floors of retail tenants in Industry View keep the price of manufacturing space low, Schein said.
“The retail space pays for the building so we can afford [industrial] rates in the mid- to upper-teens,” he said.
Manufacture New York has not announced when the hub will be open. But design work will begin in early 2015 and construction will take less than two years, said architect Ole Sondresen.
In the meantime, Uprose leadership is keeping cautiously optimistic about the changes coming to its backyard.
“We just have a lot of questions,” Yeampierre said. “We don’t want to be another Williamsburg.”