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 New York City 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 Dec. 4.
Private-sector organization 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 accelerated gentrification 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 about 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 is the culmination of a public-private partnership years in the making. The city bought the building, which is 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. The group has put $100 million into the building, installing fiber-optic networking and bringing the building up to fire codes, Salmar co-founder Marvin Schein.
The Economic Development Corporation is spending $3.5 million to build out one floor of the eight-story structure — roughly the size of a city block — for the hub, which will also include a research and development center and a small-run factory for fabric samples. The Economic Development Corporation is a quasi-governmental entity funded mainly through city subsidies and grants that is tasked with 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 loopn
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 the build-out will take less than two years, said architect Ole Sondresen.
In the mean time, 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.”