Fashion Week in Bryant Park May Go Out of Style

ohrstrom fashionweek2h Fashion Week in Bryant Park May Go Out of StyleThe Bryant Park Corporation wants the current Fashion Week to be one of the last in the midtown plaza. It’s been working with city officials to scout potential new spaces for next year’s Fashion Weeks, said Daniel Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Corporation.

The problem? Fashion Week, Mr. Biederman said, eats into the revenues of Bryant Park vendors; forces the ice-skating rink there to close in the middle of winter; pushes the public to the fringes of the park in the spring; and gives the lawn a beating. So the semiannual event may move even before its lease at Bryant Park, negotiated less than two years ago, ends.

Fashion Week’s manager, IMG Fashions, has a lease to use Bryant Park through 2010.

“Normally, we would not be involved in the search,” Mr. Biederman said, “but we’re so anxious to get rid of them that we’re working probably as hard as they are to find a new spot that fashion will like so we can run the ice rink through 2009-2010.”

Mr. Biederman would not specify which locations the city and the corporation are considering; all, he said, are within “a mile or two radius” of Bryant Park.

In late 2006, Mayor Bloomberg intervened when the corporation refused to renew IMG’s lease; he helped hammer out a contract that allows Fashion Week to remain in its traditional venue through 2010. The current Fashion Week is only the first of six under the lease, and IMG is understandably in no rush to exit Bryant Park, said Fern Mallis, vice president of the firm’s fashion division.

“We think that Bryant Park is absolutely the perfect venue for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week,” Ms. Mallis said. “It’s where it started. … It’s been the central heartbeat of [the event], and we’re here contractually until 2010,” she said. “We’re not divulging any information about the search.”

According to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, under the current agreement, IMG will pay the Bryant Park Corporation, for maintenance and use of the park, $1,210,000 for each Fashion Week in 2008; $1,330,000 for each one in 2009; and $1,460,000 for the one in February 2010.

Mercedes-Benz is underwriting the cost of the park, and dozens of other sponsors, including American Express, have attached their name to the fall 2008 shows.

This week, 68 designers will pay IMG between $26,000 and $48,500 to show in Bryant Park, and 24 others will hold shows off-site but pay a $4,000 “associate member” fee to be listed in the Fashion Week program, said Ms. Mallis.

She said the production costs of Fashion Week are now considerably higher than the last time figures were released, in 2006—the New York Post reported then that the bill for that year’s two Fashion Weeks was an estimated $12 million.

“It’s a multimillion [dollar] project, and it’s an expensive proposition,” she said, “but an important one for New York’s fashion industry, which is a vital engine of the city’s economy.”

City officials also trumpet Fashion Week as a vital part of the economy. Annually, the events generate $177 million in total profits for the hospitality and tourism sectors, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

For Bryant Park vendors, however, the revenue losses from biannual business interruptions far outweigh the financial benefit of Fashion Week, Mr. Biederman said.

“Wichcraft sandwiches does almost no business during Fashion Week, and Bryant Park Grill occasionally hosts a party,” he said, “but they’ve told us that it doesn’t make up for lost business.”