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Hundreds of thousands of garment workers once toiled in the sweaty, elbow-to-elbow workshops of midtown Manhattan before the whirring of sewing machines was mostly silenced by foreign competition.City Hall wants to preserve at least 300,000 square feet (28,000 square meters) for garment manufacturing, but allow real estate developers to bring in more 21st century businesses. Property owners have already pledged to fill 300,000 square feet with apparel manufacturing, and the city is seeking to add more. The plan, if approved by the City Council, would lift 1987 zoning that reserved about 4 million square feet of space in the garment district's high-rises for apparel-production businesses. Today's garment workshops occupy only an estimated 700,000 square feet, according to the city's Economic Development Corp.The city would also spend $20 million to acquire a building that would be dedicated to manufacturing.
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