Brooklyn Heights

Sales of Watchtower headquarters and two other Jehovah’s Witnesses’ properties could total $1.2 billion, real estate pros predict

December 4, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's the Watchtower's iconic world headquarters, seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Hallelujah brother!

Investors are expected to pay heavenly sums totaling around $1.2 billion for the famed world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn Heights and two other hot Watchtower properties.

The Watchtower Real Estate Office has just put the Witnesses’ iconic headquarters at 25-30 Columbia Heights, a 10-story residential building at 124 Columbia Heights and an enormous development site at 85 Jay St. in DUMBO up for sale.

Real estate investors are eager to get their hands on these prime locations in brownstone mecca Brooklyn Heights and oh-so-trendy DUMBO.

“Those in the real estate community realize these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” Richard  Devine, a Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman, told the Brooklyn Eagle Friday.

The sale offerings, announced Thursday night, are the latest step in the Witnesses’ long-running campaign to sell their once-vast Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO real estate holdings because of a planned move to a new headquarters they’re building in upstate Warwick.

The Witnesses typically do not set an asking price when marketing a property.

“We let the qualified buyers participate in a competitive bidding process and see where the market goes with it,” Devine told the Eagle.

The Witnesses have had a presence in Brooklyn Heights since the beginning of the 20th Century. They still own another dozen neighborhood properties they have not yet brought to market.

The construction of the upstate headquarters is proceeding more rapidly than originally expected, with a September 2016 completion date now anticipated. The Witnesses’ process of moving out of Brooklyn will start in fall 2016 and continue into 2017, Devine said.

When they move, they will be trading their jaw-dropping views of the Brooklyn Bridge for the forest scenery of the Ramapo Mountains.

“For the headquarters staff — some members of the headquarters family have been in Brooklyn Heights for over 70 years — it’ll be a big change,” Devine told the Eagle.

“In general, everyone is very excited and positive,” he said.

Devine himself has made the transition. He lived in Brooklyn Heights for more than 30 years before relocating to Warwick in 2013.

“I miss the city a lot,” Devine said. “I loved living in Brooklyn Heights.”

Here’s the scoop on the offerings, property by property:

25-30 Columbia Heights: The more than 733,000-square-foot property, whose famed red “Watchtower” sign lights up the night, was constructed in the 1920s. It was originally a Squibb Pharmaceuticals drug-manufacturing plant. The Witnesses purchased it in the 1960s.

“It’s a knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park location,” a neighborhood real estate professional told the Eagle. He predicts the property, which has a sky bridge over Columbia Heights, will sell for $800 to $900 per square foot — in other words, for as much as $660 million.

* * *

85 Jay St.: This DUMBO site has nearly 1 million square feet of development rights.

Real estate sources told the Eagle two years ago that developers who had approached the Witnesses at that time were willing to pay $400 per buildable square foot — nearly $400 million.

As the Eagle previously reported, more than a decade ago the Witnesses won a city zoning variance that allows residential construction at the site. They made plans to build four apartment towers on the property.

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124 Columbia Heights: The 152,000-square-foot residential property overlooking the Promenade is located in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

“It’s an easy conversion to condos or rental apartments,” the neighborhood real estate professional told the Eagle. “It’s so easy — if I had the money, I’d jump into it myself.”

He predicts the building will sell for $1,000 per square foot — in other words, $152 million.

Brownstones that formerly stood on the site of the well-situated residential building included 110 Columbia Heights, which was the home of Brooklyn Bridge engineer Washington Roebling.

He was crippled by caisson disease — the bends — and famously supervised bridge construction from home by watching the goings-on with a telescope.

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