Watchtower Divestment Continues: The Bossert on the Block

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After putting six of its Brooklyn Heights properties on the market last spring, the Watchtower Group announced yesterday that it would also be selling one of its crown jewels in the area, the Bossert at 98 Montague Street. In its typical fashion, the religious organization didn’t set an asking price for the 14-story former hotel. Instead, it’s issuing a Request for Best Offer. Known as the “Waldorf Astoria of Brooklyn” in its day, the 200,000-square-foot building is currently divided into 224 apartments. Predictions for the sales price?
Good Lord! Watchtower Divesting Six Heights Props [Brownstoner] GMAP

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  • I do hope they didn’t gut this building and that it can be converted back to a hotel.

  • This may be the only time I agree with Polemicist.

  • 80 zillion ‘donation’.

  • 14-16 million is my guess…

  • Not gonna sell unless they change that carpet.

  • Let’s think about this on the most basic and crude of levels, there’s 224 apartments. At $16 million that puts each apartment at $71,000. Hmmm.

  • Wow. Gorgeous building. I always wondered about it when I walked by.

  • My sister used to live in the Bossert, beautiful building! Although many of the units are very small with no kitchens. At least 150mil. A single brownstone near this location can go for 8mil.

  • When are they going to divest the monstrosity and eyesores in DUMBO? Those buildings are hideous. Someone should let them know that they can makes billions from that property.

  • Religion aside, these folks were way ahead of the curve as real estate investors. Kudos to the Watchtower Gang for buying into these hoods long before it was cool to do so.

    What I want to know is where are headed with their real estate investments now.

    This building will sell very quickly.

  • I’ve been waiting for this day for YEARS! This could completely transform Montague street. A hotel or condo with a bar and a restaurant. A thousand plus people living (even temporarily) on Montague would create a market for more than just banks and chinese on the strip. I’ve been inside in last 6months and it could easily go back to a hotel. It’s in lovely condition. But the Witnesses aren’t dumb and they don’t sell cheap. 150mm?

  • this one will sell for a burrito and a fart.

  • “this one will sell for a burrito and a fart.”

    Sadly, neither are currently available on Montague Street.

  • Bob,I’m glad to hear I’ve made such an impression on you.

  • I just hope the Witnesses didn’t strip the hotel of its character. This was once an elegant hotel, and it would be great to see it revived. Isn’t this where the Brooklyn Dodgers stayed?

  • This has got me thinking: Why do religious and educational institutions need endowments and large investments? They are non-profit and should only need enough to fulfill their operating costs, correct? Of course you need a cushion, but I really don’t understand holding billions worth of real estate when it seems like they don’t use the property (or use it for purposes that don’t really “fit” their main purpose). I could understand if their most valued property were used for churches, but it seems like the buildings in DUMBO are warehouses or something. And what were they doing with this building and the houses across Brooklyn Heights?

    It just doesn’t make sense to me when non-profits make investments to make money and it seems like this is what they were up to when they bought these properties.

    This also applies to educational institutions. Why does Harvard, Yale and Princeton need billions in endowments when their operating costs are in the tens to hundreds of millions? I think I read somewhere that Harvard could sustain itself on just its endowment and profits from the endowment (without tuition and additional alumni giving).

  • GHB, LOL. Why wouldn’t the players and coaches of the Brooklyn Dodgers live at home? The Yankees and Mets don’t stay in hotels in New York.

  • More importantly, why don’t churches pay taxes?

  • Actually, the Yankees used to frequently stay at the Grand Concourse Hotel. It also was a beautiful hotel in its day.

  • “Kudos to the Watchtower Gang for buying into these hoods long before it was cool to do so.”

    I want them to quit ringing my doorbell and asking me for money.

  • 10:28, that is part of what I’m getting at. They are non-profits and don’t pay taxes, but are actors in the real estate marketplace making huge profits. It just doesn’t seem right.

  • if this were in Carroll Gardens and Corcoran had it?

    800 million.

    Fuggedaboudit!

  • Polemicist, Why would they stay in a hotel in the city where they play? That makes no sense at all with the exception of before big games (i.e. want to keep the players from distractions at home).

  • 10:34am

    They still do that? What neighborhood?

  • 10:39, I lived in PLG for a while and every weekend they ring your doorbell wanting the spread the word. One of the few reasons I’m glad I don’t live their anymore.

    At least in other parts of the country the only make visits every couple of weeks. It was almost every weekend without fail.

  • The Brooklyn Dodgers celebrated their ’55 World Series win at the Hotel Bossert.

    I was a big dancing club back in the day and there were many Dodgers who hung out there. But no, they didn’t live there.

  • The people who live in a lot of the Witnesses properties work in the factory in Dumbo. When they get off from work they all walk in a group back to there place of residence in the Heights. I grew up in that area and would watch them everyday. They didn’t say much to us but they walked in a large mass. They even dressed a like. They have a little community in those buildings: hair salons, laundry facilities, etc. so that don’t have to go outside.

  • 10:45, Someone should let them know that they are sitting on a goldmine and it is ok to make their literature elsewhere. Can anyone let me know where else this crazy stuff happens? Only in the US.

  • O’Malley, the Dodgers owner, kept a suite of rooms at the Bossert for entertaining. The Dodgers HQ was on Montague near Court.

    At one time there was a rooftop club designed to look like the deck of an ocean liner.

    Beautiful building. Hopefully NYU or the Scientologists won’t get their hands on it.

  • oh god, NYU. I didn’t think of that. That would suck

  • “10:34am

    They still do that? What neighborhood?”

    Crown Heights

  • 10:39

    I think most of it was social like 10:45 infers. Enforcing discipline might have been part of it too – in the days before highways getting around wasn’t exactly quick. Keeping the team in the hotel the night before a game was probably a great way to ensure everyone got to the game.

    Most didn’t live in hotels, but I know Babe Ruth and a few Yankees did live in the Grand Concourse Hotel. I’m pretty sure it was the same deal with the Dodgers and this hotel.

  • 10:39 they rang my doorbell in Boerum Hill (Dean St) approx every other weekend in 2006. It was a garden unit, so your mileage may vary (which in this case is lucky for you).

    I’ve asked a few witnesses about their faith. Apparently, they are just praying for the end of the world so they can live together as the post-apocalyptic chosen people. They have land in upstate New York where where the survivors are supposed to congregate after the world is destroyed and the second coming occurs (or so they say).

    Apparently, they’ve also bought a lot of property in Jersey City/Hoboken area and are using the faithful as free labor (rather than licensed contractors) to do the work (I am guessing that they have their own architects, engineers, etc). This divestment has been in the works for years. They are leaving Brooklyn and moving to Jersey. Buy low, sell high, praise god.

    The ‘funny’ thing about Witnesses is that while they really want to talk to you about their religion, when you question the morality of praying for everyone to die – they get really upset and aggressive. It’s kind of funny to watch them freak out and spout non-sequitur bible quotes when they can’t come up with any good argument to oppose this conundrum.

    The best part is that they stopped ringing my doorbell after we had that discussion.

  • 10:45 again — think top 5-6 floors of Bossert have always been apartments and I wouldn’t be shocked if some players lived in them during the season and had “real” homes they went home to in the off season.

  • I don’t think any of the Dodgers actually lived at the Bossert. O’Malley’s suites were used for parties and press interviews.

    There’s a very good book by Michael Shapiro, The Last Good Season, which chronicles the run-up to the ’55 World Series, as well as the battle between Robert Moses and O’Malley. The Bossert is mentioned several times in the book.

  • 870,510,226,321,309 Watchtower tracts and 2,947 polyester outfits for those Witnesses who litter our lives with such wasted paper.

  • The Standish Arms went for about $50 million it’s less than half the size (around 80,000 SF compared to 200,000 for the Bossert). The finance markets is a bit tighter now than it was this summer when the Standish sold, so I would say that $100 – $120 million sounds about right to me.

    I’ve been in the building – the lobby is beautiful and has been restored. The upper floors are mostly small hotel sized rooms (don’t know what the original rooms look like, so I don’t know if it’s been gutted or not). It would be pretty easy to return it to use as a hotel. It would take alot of work to turn it into condos – you’d neet to gut renovate to create larger units.

  • these are some of the most funny and varied comments I’ve read in a long time. I wonder whether it matters or anyone reads these or whether it adds up to nothing?

    I wonder if you/ we/ anyone can get Harvard, Princeton, NYU to comment on their non-profit finances like these questions put to those people?

    I wonder if those bitter comments by others preceding this one, will be bidding on the property, or whether it matters?

    I wonder, not why they’re selling but why now? Didn’t they just get rid of 360 Furman Street building on the docks? Aren’t there new ships berths nearby and a lot of passenger traffic because of the Queen Mary and Princess Cruises at those piers?

    I guess time will tell or should I say, time will answer; one thing is certain, a lot of eyes are watching…..

  • denton

    2:15, they’re getting rid of properties cuz for years there has been a split btw those who wanted to stay in Brooklyn, and those that wanted to move everything upstate. Apparently upstate has won.

    I lived on the same block as the Bossert when they were renovating it, and at least on the outside, they did a great job. Would be wonderful to see the restaurant at the top open again.

    If I had a dollar for every Witness who died waiting for the world to end, I could buy the Bossert and have a bit left over.

    Denton

  • I am quite suprised that the Watchtower would be bringing this building to market at this stage of the real estate cycle. They must have planned this sometime ago and are not able to make adjusts considerate of current market conditions. The ability for any lender to securitize the debt on this property for anything other than rental is non-existent. The price point they achieved at the Standish ($50MM, or $640 psf) was far below the early speculation of pricing at $850 psf or more. As you might be aware the Standish is now a rental property, it is not being converted to a condominium. The decision to go rental was the default strategy due to the complete absence of funds from the market place for condominium conversions. From the buyers perspective the timing of the Standish sale could not have been worse.

    While an established boutique hotelier may have the deep pockets to make a hotel work in this location the surrounding retail is not supportive of the customer base such a hotel operator would have to market to.

    The neighborhood parents should form an investment partnership and buy the property for use as a school. Which seems to be the “use” with the most demand at the moment.

  • 2:53

    This is a prime hotel location, and there are several major hotel developments that have received funding recently – several of which are in downtown Brooklyn.

  • 2:53, People in BK Heights have money, but not that much money. I’d rather spend 25-30K a year to send my child to Dalton rather than put 50-100K into an investment partnership (plus whatever expenses for running the school) that will be hard to get my money out of when my kids graduate.

  • The Bossert and the Watchtower buildings in DUMBO are interesting, sure, but what I want to know is what will become of their HUGE parking lot bordered by York, Jay, Front and Bridge Streets?

  • they have approved plans to build 4 (?) very tall buildings there. it’s been approved for a long while now. they plan on concentrating brooklyn operations in those new buildings and the buildings around the dogpark and divest all the Heights properties. Also, they’ve move a lot of operations (printing ,etc) up to Beacon, NY

  • We got rid of the regular doorbell because we were getting rings either from kids playing pranks or friends of the Watchtower…And that was EARLY on weekend mornings!

    So, now, if we’re expecting company, we use a remote doorbell button that is small and can put in place outside and removed OR we just ask visitors to call us from their cell phones when they are arriving.

    The doorbell thing is wireless. It really made a difference. I used to run to the window upstairs and peak out to see the 5 or so people expecting to give me their literature on the weekend. Meanwhile, I was in no shape to answer the door…completely unpresentable like, probably, so many of us are that early on the weekend!

    Isn’t their religizine titled “Awake”? I’ll say!

  • Polemicist – care to put provide some factual data behind your claim – loan amounts, rates, LTVs, dates lenders made commitments, etc.? I am in the market for a real estate loan and would love to know who is lending right now. Banks just don’t have any more room for this type of debt on their books.

  • The Witnesses use the Bossert as an Inn for members visiting from out of town. It’s true that they have moved a lot of their operations upstate, most notably the printing and distribution of their publications (hence the sale of 360 Furman Street, in which paper was stored for the printing presses; it was also used as a distribution point). The plans are to build their vast 4-towered residence hall in DUMBO, and slowly but surely divest themselves of much of their Brooklyn Heights properties.

    They are apparently holding onto the large properties they hold in the North Heights, including the Towers Hotel (which is undergoing facade repairs right now), the big plant on Columbia Heights (which was once the Squibb aspirin factory) and the various HQ buildings on Columbia Heights between Orange and Clark Streets.

    The turn-of-the-20th-century office building at 136 Montague is in the process of being converted into condos. Perhaps the Bossert will follow.

    I have lived in the Heights since 1968. I thank the gods that I live in this neighborhood, knowing that a row of townhouses will never be torn down and replaced by an 85 story condo tower (well, if you don’t count the row of stores on the north side of Remsen between Clinton and Court…).

  • quest, for someone who says a lot, you are not saying anything, your comments are unfounded and without merit.

  • pretty sure his name isnt quest(Quest) but, rather guest(Guest) – the same name you & I both have signed in under. Read more carefully next time please. You just made yourself look foolish.

  • AS for you guys just guessing, Witnesses don’t thithe at all. Plus they don’t hope and pray that people die. Just that they stop what they are doing like fornicating and drunkeness etc… They teach them waht the Bible really teaches and hope you make the right decision according to GOD. Also they have a fatory in Walkill,NY that they just did a big reno in last few years, plus they have educational facilities in Paterson NY. That’s why they are selling.

  • they are moving some to Walkill,NY and Paterson NY

  • I stayed in the Standish Arms for 2 weeks in 1994 while I was doing volunteer work, and made a point of touring as many of the other Watchtower buildings as I could. They take great care of ALL their buildings, and most of the rooms are are about the size of a hotel room. Regarding the Bossert, the inner and outer parts of the lobby looked like a palace, and the lounge on the to floor look like it had been very well preserved since the mid 20th century, with a fantastic view.

  • In response to the guest who resided on Dean Street and commented on 1/29/08 @ 11:25 a.m., I realize this response may not make a bit of difference to you, but I’d like to clarify to those who may believe the ridiculously false statements you posted: I have been a Witness my entire life and NEVER ONCE have I prayed for someone to die. Rather, if you actually stopped to listen to why we’re “ringing doorbells”, you would have learned that it is to preach about God’s Kingdom, the theme of the entire Bible. It is certainly NOT to ask for donations, either. We are hoping to encourage people to stop living for themselves and to live for God, because you’d have to be blind to not see that “critical times hard to deal with” are most definitely here, as promised at 2 Timothy 3:16, 17. If we pray for people to die, why would we walk around in all kinds of weather ringing doorbells and preaching to people about the end of this system of things (not the end of the world)? Perhaps the reason the Witnesses no longer ring your doorbell is because we are not there to argue and our time can be better spent with someone who is willing to listen, instead of trying to talk to a closed mind. Furthermore, thanks for letting me know that we are supposed to congregate in upstate New York after the apocalypse- I must have missed that announcement.

  • Before the Jehovah witnesses took it over, the building/hotel had become quite rundown and seedy. Mostly it was occupied by poor elderly, and a number of alcoholics. The lobby had an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant with large leather booths. The interior of the restaurant seemed very dark and probably dirty. Although the Witnesses are not the type of group that I would ever consider joining, I give them credit for their restoration of the building. Before they took it over it was on the verge of becoming a welfare hotel.

  • These comments are hilarious and obviously by people who clearly don’t check out facts before they comment.

    I agree with the comment about how the Jehovah Witness people fixed it.

    I have heard about how they get a property and fix it up really nice. About the Bossert, it was once run down and it is a show room masterpiece now.

    The people who buy this are getting a prime piece of property that would have probably be torn down if they hadn’t refurbished it back to better than original condition.

    It seems to me there was a beautiful Church that used to be near there and it was torn down years ago from neglect.

    Okay, maybe you don’t like the people, but give them credit for doing a good job. Plus, I think the neighborhood has fared pretty good in the past because of the increase in property values.

  • According to the New York Times:
    Richard Devine, the building manager for the society, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the old hotel was “in very poor condition when we bought it.” The society then began an extensive renovation of the 14-story building.

    Mr. Devine declined to estimate the cost of the renovation of the Italian Renaissance Revival-style building, with its white pillars and crystal chandeliers, but said it was “in the millions.”

    If they spent that much on it with the use of free labor, it’s probably worth over $100 million.

  • 2-5 10:31, thank you for the correct view. The Scripture you cited does certainly show peoples attitudes in these critical times, at 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Our endeavor is to point people to the Bible, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, since it contains very helpful information that can show people how to live amid the complexities of the world today. Those who guide their steps by the Bible can come to have a life that truly is more enjoyable and successful.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses have been finishing the preaching work started by Jesus Christ himself some two thousand years ago, namely that the ‘Kingdom of God is Near.’ They have been doing this solely on donations for around twenty years now. They used to sell their literature for a modest price years ago but have since been giving their literature to anyone willing to read it and accepting donations if offered. This work has covered most of the earth and continues to do so. Any profits earned from the savy real estate dealings of the Wathtower Society will no doubt go a long way in furthering this work. Those who post that this work is annoying need not worry too much longer, the work is nearly done. When it is finished to God’s satisfaction, it will cease and changes in this old world will be made. It is the wish of the Witnesses that all mankind respond to this message and thereby place themselves on God’s side when that time comes. Grab your Bible and read Zephaniah 1:14, also 2:3. Listen to these people when they call on you. They don’t want your money. They are just trying to help you find the way. If you don’t want them calling, just tell them so and they will stop, but what can it hurt really? It’s free and it’s stimulating. You can’t get that from just anyone.

  • Yess, we don’t go door-to-door asking for money. Jesus told his disciples himself “you recieved free, give free”(Matthew 10:8) and we follow that in that we ourselves recieved the message of Jehovah’s kingdom for free, so we preach the good news for fre. And also as its been commented, we talk to those who are open to listen and reason, not argue. Our purpose is not to bombard you with information then and there, but to show what the Bible itself says. (Matthew 24:14) f you have any questions or doubts, feel free to visit the office or write to it.

  • Most of the people commenting on this topic need to grow up and be careful what you wish for. If all of the watchtower buildings are converted to apartments or condos who do you think will move in? That’s right, more families, making the parks and schools even more crowded than they already are. Good luck getting into pre-K with another 4,000 three-year olds in the area.

    I live right next to the watchtower buildings by the dog park and they’ve never rung my bell a single time. I routinely walk by groups of witnesses on my way to the subway in the morning and they are extremely pleasent. Every once in a while they will offer some literature which I politely decline.

    I’d rather have them as neighbors than the idiot kids who skateboard down columbia heights at 2AM or the thugs that were randomly beating people on front street.

  • I just gotta laugh at the bigot who hates the witnesses, in one post he says “I want them to quit ringing my doorbell”, and then just two hours later he claims,”The best part is that they stopped ringing my doorbell after we had that discussion”, a shrink would tell you, this guy actually likes the attention !

  • OK… I thought I’d respond to both the proselytizing by JWs and the anti-JW remarks posted here.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are well intentioned people, they do good work, are family oriented, and it is admirable to me that they dedicate their lives to this preaching work that they believe Jesus commanded.

    They don’t pray for people to die at Armageddon, they engage in a preaching work so they can save as many people as possible.

    That having been said, it IS obnoxious to have people religiously harass you in order to spread their faith. It just is, well-intentioned or not.

    The Bible, a literal interpretation on which you base your life, says some things that are scientifically impossible and I can prove it, although I won’t go into it here.

    Just a couple of quick examples: Modern tool using humans have been on the Earth for at least 10,000 years, making the genealogy of Jesus’ descent from Adam impossible. Didn’t happen. Also, a global flood didn’t happen, based on Antarctic ice core samples, analysis of the ocean’s floors, analysis of layers of rock strata, the fossil record, free-standing rock formations, etc. It didn’t happen. Maybe there was a large regional flood, adn this is the inspiration for the allegorical tale of Noah’s flood.

    But it is an allegorical tale, and I can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    So here are two not so minor areas the Bible is wrong in. Which parts are uncorrupted? Which parts are divinely inspired? How do you pick and choose?

    Also, the concept of a loving God that you carry with you when reading the Bible colors your perception of what is truly in the Bible… slaughtering close to seven billion people because they don’t live by your goofy and archaic puritanical standards is hardly the solution to a problem I would expect a loving God to come up with.

    Why are God’s problem-solving skills so limited?

    Why is extermination the only solution he seems to understand?

    Because the Bible is the product of an ancient civilization, and bears all the hallmarks of primitive human thinking, and this is why God behaves primitively.

    Yes, Jesus was a major step forward for Western religious thought, but it is your modern JW perceptions that allow you to see Jehovah as a God of love, rather than the Bronze Age deity that the Bible clearly indicates.

    You say that you don’t argue when you are engaged in your preaching work, because your time could be better spent with people who don’t have closed minds… you can be out looking for people “with the right heart condition”.

    That’s probably good. Healthy and honest debate is good too, though… consider the example of Jesus (assuming he actually existed), and the apostle Paul debating openly in the Aeropagus.

    Did Jesus ever run from a conversation? Were the Jewish religious leaders who opposed him “closed-minded”? Why then did he debate them?

    Because he wasn’t afraid, and you are afraid.

    Witnesses try to control the conversation, which is only possible with people who are as poorly educated as you are.

    If you ever do any serious research into evolution vs. intelligent design you will change your mind… I gaurantee it.

    The only people who believe in Intelligent Design (which Witnesses do, don’t kid yourself)are those that are ignorant.

    I’m not trying to be insulting, it’s just a firm conclusion reached by someone who has actually researched both sides honestly and thoroughly.

    Do yourself a favor and read “Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth R. Miller.

    You owe it to yourself, especially as you are betting your entire existence on your beliefs.