In the midst of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, tourists and locals alike often wonder at the sign perched atop a Brooklyn warehouse proclaiming “Watchtower.” But not for much longer.
The iconic HQ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at 25-30 Columbia Heights has just hit the market, along with two other Witness-owned sites in Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights. “These kinds of properties are once-in-a-generation in Brooklyn,” Watchtower spokesman Richard Devine told Brownstoner. “Because of their location and size, we expect considerable interest.”
Yes, we can practically hear the developers salivating.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses started acquiring land in Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo way back in 1908, but began selling off their ample holdings in the ‘hoods in 2011 after announcing a plan to move their headquarters upstate to Warwick, N.Y.
In the meantime, a number of Brooklyn Watchtower properties have sold for eye-popping prices. In their largest deal to date, a set of five Dumbo buildings sold to Jared Kushner for $375,000,000 to be transformed into Kushner’s massive Dumbo Heights office complex. It was the largest Brooklyn deal of 2013.
Now the Witnesses are selling valuable property at 25-30 Columbia Heights, 124 Columbia Heights, and 85 Jay Street. The Brooklyn Heights buildings will be especially prized because they are some of the only un-landmarked buildings in the neighborhood.
The Witness HQ buildings at 25-30 Columbia Heights are spacious — 733,000 square feet, taking up two entire city blocks — but with the added advantage of even more jaw-dropping views of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Devine told us that the buildings are currently used as administrative offices for hundreds of staff supporting and supervising the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.
“But right now the 25-30 Columbia Heights lots are actually zoned for manufacturing,” Devine told Brownstoner. The buildings were originally the manufacturing headquarters of Squibb Pharmaceuticals, and the Witnesses bought them in the 1960s for offices, said Devine, adding “Of course, a developer could do something different.”
What’s the value of this huge space with huge views on land at the border of two of the borough’s priciest neighborhoods? The Witnesses haven’t named a price tag, but are instead inviting competitive offers. Rest assured, the numbers will be mind-meltingly high.
The second Witness property to hit the market on Friday is potentially even more valuable — an undeveloped Dumbo parking lot at 85 Jay Street with almost 1,000,000 square feet of development rights. In a glamorous neighborhood desperate for more office space and where condos are coveted, whoever nabs that lot has a blank canvas for cash-making development.
To give you a sense of the money, it’s helpful to hear that the Witnesses likely turned down a developer’s offer for 85 Jay two years ago that came to nearly $400,000,000, according to the Brooklyn Eagle.
When asked whether this story is true, Devine told Brownstoner, “After we announced our intention to move, people contacted us with various ideas. But we haven’t entertained anything seriously. We’ll see what the market determines today.”
The third property is 124 Columbia Heights, a 10-story red brick apartment building overlooking the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and with incredible views of Manhattan. This was the Witnesses’ first property in the neighborhood and one of several residential buildings interconnected by a series of underground tunnels — the subject of much neighborhood speculation and urban myth.
When the Witnesses announced their plans to move to Warwick and sell their Brooklyn holdings in 2011, they had 34 properties in the area. Even after selling 25-30 Columbia Heights, 85 Jay Street, and 124 Columbia Heights, they’ll still own nine sites:
- A vacant lot at 67 Furman Street
- A vacant lot at 1 York Street/30 Front Street
- Apartment buildings at 97, 107, and 119 Columbia Heights
- An apartment building at 21 Clark Street
- Two small buildings at 80 and 86 Willow Street
- And a dormitory at 90 Sands Street — though Kushner and RFR are already in contract to buy the building and turn it into a hotel.
What would you want a developer to do with the properties?
[h/t: Brooklyn Eagle | Photos: Barbara Eldredge]
No Timetable to Sell 16 Remaining Jehovah’s Witness Properties in Heights, Dumbo
Dumbo’s Watchtower Buildings Get New Lease on Life as “Dumbo Heights” Tech Campus
Argentinian Hotelier to Open Renovated Bossert Hotel, Former Witness Building as “Esplendor Bossert”