The Watchtower Bible Tract Society, one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities, is nearing the design phase for Bridge Park 2 in Dumbo, a two-acre, city-owned park the Society agreed to restore in exchange for favorable zoning at 85 Jay Street. Back in 2004, the city approved a zoning variance for the Society to build on its large parking lot an 800,000-square-foot building with a 1,600-seat cafeteria, 2,500-seat assembly hall, 1,100-space public parking garage and 1,000 apartments. Of course that was before the Society began divesting its Brooklyn properties, so far selling nearly 300 apartments in four buildings and 360 Furman Street (now One Brooklyn Bridge Park) for a total of $195.1 million, according to city property records. Another 263 apartments in six buildings are on the market, including the Hotel Bossert, which one broker predicted would sell for at least $100 million.
Tucker Reed, head of the Dumbo Business Improvement District, was at a “listening session” held last week to solicit ideas for the new park. He said the Parks Department and Society have taken this long to reach an agreement on park construction. The Parks Department is used to getting a check from developers; the Jehovah’s Witnesses do everything possible in-house through their world-wide network of volunteers. “We’re an all-volunteer organization and we function on funds that are voluntarily donated by people, and so we want to make the best use of our resources,” said Watchtower spokesman Richard Devine. Volunteers would do everything from designing to constructing the park, he said, sometimes flying in “from all over the country” if someone local doesn’t have the expertise for the job. And since they believe in the Doctrine of Cleanliness, at least we know it will look perfect.
The proposed renovations in the original agreement included rehabilitation of a baseball field with artificial turf, an existing playground, seating area, landscaping and reopening the comfort station. “I think the community is looking at this to be a more active park than the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is more walking and sitting and beautiful scenery,” said Devine.
So does that mean the Watchtower Society is going to get started on its massive four-tower building? “We’re not going to move forward in the near future but I wouldn’t say we’re never going to build,” said Devine. Brooklyn Heights will still be the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ world headquarters as the hub of its editorial and administrative staff, he said. But, as has been well-reported, the Society moved its printing and shipping operations upstate and overseas, along with many of its support services (The headquarters is nearly a self-sustaining society. Volunteers support each other by proving everything from cleaning, cooking, laundry, window washing, electrical work and drape making). Devine said after they sold 360 Furman, they stopped making their own ink for the millions of publications and bibles they print in several languages. “We are consolidating quite a bit. In fact, the rezoning of 85 Jay really gave us the confidence to go ahead and move forward with consolidation,” he said.
The only thing is, if 85 Jay Street is built as planned, with nearly double the apartments sold or on the market, the Society would be expanding its operations in the Heights, not consolidating, unless it sells off nearly all of its remaining residential properties. But alas, that’s all we get for now from Devine, who must also believe in the Doctrine of Suspense. As usual, never a dull moment over at the Watchtower!
Watchtower Divestment Continues: The Bossert on the Block [Brownstoner]
Brooklyn’s Fabled Hotel Bossert on Market [Brooklyn Eagle]
Watchtower to Sell 6 Brooklyn Heights Properties [Brooklyn Eagle]