The Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious organization best known for the door-to-door proselytizing activity of its members, is reportedly selling its iconic international “Watchtower” headquarters building in Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York City, along with other properties in Brooklyn for more than $1 billion.
The religious organization, according to the Associated Press, has placed on the market multiple properties in Brooklyn — including its headquarters building in Brooklyn known for its prominent “Watchtower” sign — as it prepares to relocate upstate in Warwick about an hour’s drive from New York City. The move comes after the organization has maintained presence in Brooklyn since 1909, more than a century.
The organization’s Brooklyn headquarters, located on a 733,000-square-foot property, was purchased at a sum of $3 million in 1969 from Squibb Pharmaceuticals. Now the property is being sold along with nearby apartment buildings, a 135,000-square-foot lot and other properties owned by the organization in Brooklyn.
The organization’s real estate portfolio of about 36 buildings scattered across Brooklyn now also includes several other upstate properties, including hotels where volunteers building the church’s new headquarters are accommodated.
AP reports that although the organization has not announced an asking price for the properties, Tucker Reed, president of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, said that $1 billion was a “conservative estimate” of the value of the Jehovah’s Witnesses real estate portfolio.
He pointed to a nearby 1.4 million-square-foot complex purchased in 2013 from the organization that was valued at $375 million.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesperson Richard Devine — who said the new facility in Warwick will open in 2017 — the move to the quieter and affluent upstate town of Warwick will allow the organization to restructure for greater operational efficiency.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization began selling off its 36 Brooklyn properties about a decade ago in preparation for relocation to Warwick. Earlier in 2004, the organization’s printing plant, which produces its Bibles and religious tracts, relocated to the town of Wallkill from Brooklyn.
“As we’ve grown as an organization we’ve had to buy scattered properties wherever we could find them,” Devine told AP. “With a big, scattered campus like that it’s challenging to administer and to maintain.”
Meanwhile, businesses and residents in Brooklyn have welcomed the movement, saying it will free up much needed space in the crowded neighborhood for businesses and apartments.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were never culturally part of their trendy environment and according to Alexandria Sica, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District, the move is “going to be incredibly transformative.”
She said the property had always seemed off-limits and “closed off…”
“You get a sense of ‘this place is not for the public,'” she said.
Devine also admitted that members of the organization were happy to move.
“To be honest with you, many people find New York City intimidating,” he said.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization has more than eight million members worldwide. They are a millenarian religious sect who believe that Jesus returned “invisibly” in 1914 and that the apocalyptic end of the world — known in biblical eschatology as Armageddon– is imminent.
The group was founded late in the nineteenth century by an ardent Bible prophecy student and teacher, Charles Taze Russell, formerly a Presbyterian from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Russell established the organization’s headquarters in Brooklyn in 1909 and over several years the organization acquired scattered properties including 36 buildings in Brooklyn.
The organization, formerly known as Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 to distinguish itself from historically related groups such as the Bible Student movement.
Many mainstream Christian groups brand the Jehovah’s Witnesses a “cult” due largely to their non-mainstream beliefs such as rejection of the Trinity doctrine and insistence that Christians must use God’s name “Jehovah.”
[Photo By Seth Wenig/AP]