Watchtower Props As Alternative to Park Condos

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The idea of converting some of the Watchtower properties in Brooklyn Heights into luxury housing and using the tax revenues to support the upkeep of Brooklyn Bridge Park instead of building condos in the park itself is not new (it’s been floating around for a few months), but there was a “closed-door session” at Borough Hall yesterday, according to The Post, where the idea got airtime with local pols and influencers. “There’s a growing sentiment that the Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings are the magic bullet to keep more housing out of the park,” said Paul Nelson, Assemblywoman Joan Millman’s chief of staff and a member of the city board overseeing the park’s development. One activist has specifically proposed that the city buy the buildings, convert them into luxury condos and use the tax revenue for park maintenance. Think that could work?
High-rise Foes Seek ‘Witness’ Protection [NY Post]
Can Jehovah’s Witnesses Save BBP From Condos? [Curbed]
Photo by Sergio

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  • hallelujah and amen!
    this is a heaven sent opportunity.
    and a way to avoid armageddon by the park.

  • no, at 1st glance doesn’t seem right. If converted they should be paying taxes for all of NYC expenses…not just for some nice fancy-ass amenity which is extension of there own backyard.

  • why do they have to be luxury why cant they just be regular old apartments?

    *rob*

  • Just get the ESDC and FCR to declare it blighted and they can seize it.

  • Yeah sounds great….no how is this different from keeping the Watchtower a commercial building and simply building condos???

  • This is great — and it’s a simple “gimme” from the city to the park.

    These buildings aren’t commercial now. They’re religious and they pay no taxes. When they are sold they will pay taxes (luxury or not — I bet they’ll become dorms). if the city would say, we will hand over those dollars to maintain the park, it would be great. I for one think the development of the waterfront along all of Brooklyn and Manhattan is good for the entire city. So I’m all for it.

  • Thank you *rob*. How can you expect condos tax revenue to really support the park? Majority of condos going up today have 421-A benefits attached to them, which brings a condo owner takes to about nothing compared to what it would’ve been without the abatement. Are these city officials thinking, or smoking during these sessions?

  • do you have any idea how many buildings the JW own in this area? a LOT

  • wtf. the question posed is a bit outrageous. i do NOT want the government buying land and playing developer. we have plenty of investors willing to take the risk / reward tradeoff, thank you very much.

  • How can you expect condos tax revenue to really support the park? Majority of condos going up today have 421-A benefits attached to them,

    - Condos in DUMBO are no longer 421a eligible

  • more4less

    rather someone else’s tax $$$ pay for the park maintenance so I cant complain

  • “”There’s a growing sentiment that the Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings are the magic bullet to keep more housing out of the park,””

    I am ok with this plan but how does it keep “more housing out of the park” – all it does is take a commercial (yes I know it gets a religious designation but its use is akin to commercial) building and convert it to residential as opposed to just building a new residential building – I dont see how this reduces the amount of housing – all it seems to do is reduce the number of buildings (which is fine, if unnecessary, as well)

  • yes, I have to agree with Rob on this.

    Why can’t they just be regular apartments with regular finishes. Yes, laminate counter tops will do just as good instead of granite, and Kenmore is just as good as sub-zero….

    ugh,

  • Stargazer I think you really have to ask yourself why you give a shit what type of finishes will be put into apartments that you will likely never live in???

  • If this plan were to proceed, PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) would be part of the negotiated deal, so 421-a tax abatements would not be an issue. As Ringo points out, the buildings don’t pay property taxes now.

    fsrq, the scheme does not reduce the amount of housing, but it does move the housing outside of what long-time park advocates have envisioned as the park footprint; that is, all of the piers and upland.

    My sources tell me the proposal as made (the doors may have been closed but the windows were wide open) was for the city to take the Watchtower buildings by eminent domain.

  • The funny part is that what passes for luxury these days is so common that it can’t really be described as luxury. Everybody and their gramma has those same ugly ass (IMO) granite countertops and fingerprint smudged stainless appliances. Luxury in this city would be space. Real space. Like not having to put your couch directly up against your dining table. Like not being able to stand in what passes for a bedroom and touch opposite walls with your arms outstretched.

  • Condos in buildings such as these were never 421a eligible – new construction only

  • g_man – if it means that people will stop whining about housing and the park – I am all for it…..All I know is that park as built so far (even with 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park Condo) is absolutely amazing – I mean truly – and I know that without a verified funding source NYC/NYS could not/would not have ever built something so terrific (actually surprised they did anyway) – so whatever it takes to get the rest of it done and then maintained – as it so far has been – I am all for.

  • about the 421-a……gotcha.

  • Why choose? Inventory is tight.

    ***Bid half off peak comps***

  • Your right, I will not live there.

    I actually don’t give a shit either, because i am not moving any time soon. But, I think of other people that might want to live there but can’t afford all the “high end luxuries”, so that is why, laminate is just as good as granite.
    …and I still agree with Rob, why can’t they just be regular apartments

    *** sticks tongue out ***

  • ISNH

    I agree, space to me also would be a luxury, not the freaking countertops.

  • “Why can’t they just be regular apartments with regular finishes. Yes, laminate counter tops will do just as good instead of granite, and Kenmore is just as good as sub-zero….”

    These places would cost an obscene amount because of location, so the kind of people buying them are going to expect high-end finishes. There’s no such thing as a ‘regular’ Brooklyn Heights apartment with unobstructed views of Manhattan.

  • To put it another way, countertop and appliance choices aren’t going to make a lick of difference in terms of affordability when location alone means prices above $1000/square foot.

  • The idea of taking advantage of a conversion from religious tax-exempt property to taxable residential for the imposition of PILOTS to subsidize the maintenance of the adjacent park is totally fortuitous and correct IMO. It is the same model used at 360 Furman Street, which has been paying PILOTS now for a couple of years.

  • Yeah, I do see your point, at those prices, I suppose one would want better finishes.. (for a rental)….

    But also, at those prices (especially if it is a condo), I would think the buyer would rather pick out the finishes he/she likes, rather than leaving it up to the builder where everyone has the same bathroom, kitchen and flooring…..

  • trust me when you live in an apartment that has painted (yes, PAINTED) laminate countertops you might feel that granite would be a luxury upgrade

  • stargazer:

    With this location, they probably could pre-sell the units and let the buyers pick out the finishes. I don’t think laminate countertops would be in the catalog, however.

  • blech stone countertops. luxury my ass. it’s gross, i’d feel like im eating on the sidewalk.

    *rob*

  • dittoburg

    They’ll make them luxury Rob because your non-luxury broke ass can’t pay the taxes needed for the park upkeep. The whole thing would be a waste of time unless they get enough taxes.

    In addition, as others pointed out, “luxury” in real estate lingo has about as much veracity as “steps from everything”.

    I’ll admit I stole “broke ass” from ENY.

  • dittoburg

    Great park BTW, went there for the first time this weekend.

  • novanglus

    I don’t think laminate countertops would be in the catalog, however.

    LOL, I would hope not!!

  • infinitejester

    I would totally live there if they converted those buildings. I sincerely hope they do.

  • Worth repeating ditto -

    The park (as much as has been completed) is AMAZING

  • I hope they convert the buildings too, but for the moment, the Witnesses are happily ensconced there and the residential market is saturated with new condos. The latter is the reason why the new towers are not rising from their empty footprints just south of One BBP.
    They are not getting built not because of any opposition from the “Housewives of Cobble Hill” but rather because the market sucks right now.
    Take a walk down to One BBP, past the little dog-run, see those empty rectangles of fenced-off land with nothing in them? That’s were the new towers are scheduled to begin rising the very minute the real estate market gets hot again -if it ever does.

  • yes, the park is really great, we have spent a lot of time there this summer with our bikes, from Columbia all the way to DUMBO, great work out !!!

  • infinitejester

    Good advice, Minard. Fine with me for the moment though – still working on making my millions.

  • We moved out of the area right before the park opened–doh! But the one time we’ve been there we thought it was awesome.

    They wouldn’t have any problem selling units in the Watchtower buildings–some places (e.g. 225 Pacific) sell out way in advance if the location is desirable enough.

    Rather, it’s just a matter of sellers waiting until they can get even more money when the economy heats up.

  • Putting aside for the moment that Dumbo is a dump and you’d have to be an utter ignoramus to buy there (especially now), I agree with Petebklyn (2nd comment). Why should people who buy a luxury condo get to pay taxes that go exclusively to a park that benefits their appreciation, not to mention their perceived quality of life? Their tax dollars should pay for cops and fire etc just like yours and mine. NYC would do better to retroactively cancel all tax abatements for any and all developments in and around Dumbo. The purpose of the abatements was to incent interest in what was formerly a blighted area. Well, looks like it worked. Incentive is no longer needed. Now it’s just a handout to people who can find approval for a $1 million mortgage. Taxes in Dumbo ought to be no different than Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope, yet people in Dumbo who own a 3,000 sq. ft. loft are paying $3,000 annually. Does that make sense to anyone?

  • I thought the new towers were going where the demo is still happening, near pier 1/fulton ferry landing

  • The park is a work of art. the water gardens are amazing. Last Sunday I saw a critter, I think it was a muskrat, hanging out by the edge of the pond. Nearby monarch butterflies and dragonflies were flitting around the flowers of the native plants.

  • ringo, that is where the hotel is going, the towers are going on the other end near Atlantic.

  • great idea, if/when they sell it iconic building for them too

  • “My sources tell me the proposal as made (the doors may have been closed but the windows were wide open) was for the city to take the Watchtower buildings by eminent domain.”

    g-man, you pulling our legs here? What’s the public purpose? Funding of the park? That’s quite a stretch!

    “Why should people who buy a luxury condo get to pay taxes that go exclusively to a park that benefits their appreciation, not to mention their perceived quality of life? Their tax dollars should pay for cops and fire etc just like yours and mine.”

    Who said property taxes were fair? Ask the condo owners that pay far more than those in much larger brownstones. At least the park will be open for all.

  • dittoburg

    Minard, I agree the widlife has jumped in already enthusiastically. We saw Monarchs, cormorants on the pilings and a bird which if we were in Europe I would say was a Goldcrest. My American ornithological knowledge is limited.

  • “Brooklyn Heights activist Tony Manheim – who is leading this charge — said the city should buy the Witnesses buildings, convert them into luxury condos and then put tax revenues from the sales toward the park’s anticipated $16.1 million annual maintenance costs.”

    This Post quote makes no sense.

  • Its really funny that the savior of luxury housing in the Park, is luxury housing near by.

    The idea of using luxury housing in the Park was to allow the park to get needed revenue from land that was not going to be otherwise developed. The Watchtower building is similar as its land that was not in the tax rolls coming on to the tax rolls.

    I don’t have a major objection to the change except one. It means that almost all the development comes at the North end of the park and “the fair share” that included the development at the south end…ends. North gets the Hotel and other development and the south just gets the already built 360 Furman. The only thing the park doesn’t get from the watchtower builds would be the ground lease for the use of the Park’s land that it would have occupied under the old plan. BTW on 421a. you can only get it in downtown Brooklyn(for new or rehabs) if there is at least 20% affordable housing. This is relatively new… you used to be able to get it for anything but that law changed about 4 years ago.

    Since no one has money to buy the Watchtower buildings the increased taxes are all that will be gotten. No governmental entity needs to buy them. To get the tax revenue into the Park all the city needs to do is to allow the tax revenue to be dedicated(although it will need a change in State law to allow this-something that should not be that difficult if the Mayor agrees- a big if BTW)…

  • BoerumHillScott

    I don’t get all the opposition to more housing as part of the park.

    The land was all warehouses a few years ago and the plots of land for potential construction are now fenced-off construction staging sites.

    The park will have tons of space when the current plans are finished, and I don’t see how a few apartment buildings between the park and the BQE will hurt anyone.

    Instead, NIMBYs are willing to fight this to the point that we will end up with Piers 1 and 6 being finished and a wasteland in between.

  • “I don’t get all the opposition to more housing as part of the park.”

    Its simple Scott -people in Brooklyn/NYC hate everything, especially anything that seems to reflect that someone else might have more $ than them (luxury housing); its sad and pathetic.

    The reality is that if the park wasn’t fully funded we wouldnt have a park and even of we had a park it wouldnt be near as nice as it is turning out to be; but rather than appreciate that, a sizable segment of our population immediately try to figure out why someone (future condo owners) are going to “get” something that they wont i.e. a better view; and then immediately protest using every ridiculous argument they can conceive.

  • The opposition to the towers was always a smokescreen to try to kill the park by nearby residents who wanted to keep outsiders away from their neighborhoods. Period.
    They latched on to the “privatization of parkland” as their best bet to be heard. The argument is of course specious as there was no parkland there but rather commercial wharves, which could have all been rezoned for residential development rather than public parkland.

  • Minard nailed it – nobody cares except the people who don’t want a park at all.

    Even though the F’n thing is awesome and maybe the overflow will support some of those otherwise going out of business places on Montague.

  • Minard – despite my earlier rant – I agree with you re: the opposition

  • It should be noted, in fairness, that the much reviled Brooklyn Heights Association was the one neighborhood group that has always strongly supported the park through thick and thin in spite of nasty criticism from many quarters -especially the Cobble Hill Association and the so-called Defenders of the Park group, who is actually the group that wanted to kill the park.

  • jessibaby, I’m not pulling anybody’s leg, just reporting what I was told. Perhaps the threat of eminent domain only exists to bring the Watchtower Society to the table, where a win-win deal could be figured out to their benefit.

    Regarding smeyer’s observation that “almost all the development comes at the North end of the park,” wouldn’t that be exactly what the Roy Sloanes of the world want?

  • BTW the way 360 Furman street became part of the park was that the developer and the City agreed to “give” it to the park. The watchtower is not going to give it to the City. If it is taken by eminent domain,(assuming it can be) the US Constitution requires “just” compensation….(its the Fifth amendment by the way)….and yes I am aware of why the South end doesn’t want development. Makes no sense to me what they originally proposed for that pier(6), an entertainment and dining venue would have brought more people and been more of a competition to their sacred merchants on Atlantic Avenue….if I was a merchant on Atlantic Avenue I would support the housing….

  • denton

    Who funded the LIC parks on the waterfront? I assume developers, but many of those are rentals.

    And yes, space IS the ultimate luxury. And if you can afford space, you can certainly afford granite counters.