The battle to maintain manufacturing and industrial space has raged on for years on the hyperlocal level in many Queens neighborhoods and areas citywide.
Now, the City Council is requesting Mayor de Blasio to take significant action to ensure the survival of the city’s 21 industrial business zones.
Resolution 228, introduced on May 14 and discussed at a June 19 hearing jointly held by the committees on Economic Development and Small Business, calls on de Blasio to revitalize the defunct Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses
Co-sponsored by 12 city lawmakers, including Queens Councilmen Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), the resolution is not legislation. Instead, it is a formal request for the city’s executive branch to take action on the issue.
Born from a Bloomberg administration task force on industrial retention in 2005, the city’s 21 Industrial Business Zones were established and MOIMB was tasked with supporting and enhancing industrial and manufacturing businesses in those zones.
By 2008, MIOMB’s director, Carl Hum, had resigned and the office remained without a leader until 2011, when the Industrial Desk at the Economic Development Corp. took over its duties.
Now, the Council is calling for the former industrial business oversight agency to be revamped in order to “grant the manufacturing sector a strong voice in city government,” as per its resolution.
Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, discussed at last week’s hearing how critical it is that the city doesn’t “simply develop away our manufacturing zones.”
“While manufacturing saw considerable decline over the last few decades, we are happy to see some growth again in the last few years,” Garodnick said. “And it’s important that the city be present to support that growth. The city needs to prioritize protecting industrial space.”
Various Queens industrial advocates, such as the Long Island City Partnership, and the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., testified at the hearing, issuing their support for a strengthened industrial sector in the city.
“In Long Island City alone, we have 2,100 industrial businesses, comprising 34 percent of all businesses in the area, employing over 40,000 workers, or 42 percent of area employees,” Long Island City Partnership President Elizabeth Lusskin said. “We have to keep these remarkable industrial businesses in New York City.”
Aron Kurlander, GJDC’s director of business services, called for the funding for industrial business programs such as IBZs to be increased to $4 million from the $578,000 allocated in Mayor de Blasio’s executive budget.
“Those funds are essential for GJDC to be able to provide these services,” Kurlander said. “A restoration of the funding to its original $4 million will go a long way to helping grow our industrial workforce in southeast Queens and provide good-paying jobs for our communities.”
Multiple businesses located in the Maspeth Industrial Business Zone such as Axis Global Systems and Welpak were also represented at the hearing by their owners.
According to Garodnick, the funding for the IBZ program decreased from $3.9 million in the fiscal year 2006 budget to just $1.1 million six years later.
IBZ funding was nonexistent in Bloomberg’s 2014 budget proposal, but the Council restored $1.156 million last June.
After years of declining funds, Resolution 228 calls for an increase from the $578,000 presently allocated for IBZs to that same $1.156 million in the fiscal year 2015 budget
The quest to save land zoned for industrial use has often been a hot topic at Community Board 5, as proposals to turn two plots of vacant manufacturing space in Ridgewood into residential housing have sparked disagreement amongst some of the most senior board members.
In April, CB 5 voted 28-11 in favor of rezoning a plot of land to allow for the construction of two apartment buildings, citing decades of inactivity at the site and the neighborhood’s standing as mostly residential.
However, earlier this month, CB 5 voted 21-13 against the rezoning of a manufacturing plot to allow for residential construction, despite the board’s Land Use Committee voting in favor of it.
Maspeth Industrial Business Association Coordinator Jean Tanler, a CB 5 member who voted against both measures, said the city needs to do more to protect IBZs.
“The IBZs have never received legislative protection so they can be eliminated by the Mayor and they are not protected by conflicting uses such as hotels, entertainment venues, and big box retail stores,” Tanler said in an email. “The $1.15 million would restore funding for the Industrial Business Service Providers to current levels but it is a mere fraction of our original budget of $4.1 million.
“The City needs to create a policy,” she continued, “that commits to no net-loss of manufacturing space, reinstitutes the Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses, provides adequate funding for Industrial Business Service Providers, employs residents through workforce development, stops zoning away quality jobs and invests in new industrial development projects.”
A spokesman for Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), who represents an area including the Maspeth IBZ, said she supports the Council’s resolution.
Aside from the Maspeth IBZ, there are also business zones in Jamaica, Woodside, and Long Island City.