Jehovah’s Witnesses’ DUMBO hotel will become low-income housing, sources say

June 18, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's a glimpse of 90 Sands St., a former Watchtower residential hotel that will be turned into low-income housing. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Now we know what comes next for the DUMBO residential hotel the Jehovah’s Witnesses owned until recently.

A housing provider called Breaking Ground will turn 90 Sands St. into an affordable and supportive residence for low-income working families and low-income and formerly homeless individuals, the Brooklyn Eagle has learned.

At a Community Board 2 meeting on Wednesday night, Breaking Ground President and CEO Brenda Rosen is scheduled to make a presentation about her organization’s plan “to create low-to-moderate income and supportive housing at 90 Sands St.,” an email bulletin from the community board says.

The vacant 30-story residential hotel, which stands beside the Manhattan Bridge on the corner of Sands, Jay and High streets, was constructed a quarter-century ago.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

It currently belongs to Manhattan-based mega-landlord RFR. The real estate firm bought 90 Sands St. from the Watchtower for $135 million last year, city Finance Department records indicate.

Kushner Cos. had planned to be a partner in that purchase but dropped out of the deal. Jared Kushner headed Kushner Cos. until he stepped aside to become a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

Kushner Cos. recently sold its stake in the Watchtower’s former Brooklyn Heights headquarters at 25-30 Columbia Heights and Watchtower development site 85 Jay St. in DUMBO.


Tenants Would Start Arriving in Early 2020

Recently, the board of directors of Concord Village, a co-op complex near 90 Sands St., sent its shareholders an informational email about Breaking Ground’s plans for the former Watchtower residential hotel.

Breaking Ground is in the process of buying 90 Sands St., with an expected closing date in September, the email says.

The information in the email was drawn from a conference call with executive staff from Breaking Ground.

There are 507 apartments in 90 Sands St., 127 of which are small one-bedroom units and 380 of which are studios.

“The one-bedroom apartments will be geared toward low-income, working families and the studio apartments will be provided to individuals who are low-income and formerly homeless,” the Concord Village board’s email says.

Supportive services will be provided onsite for tenants of these permanently rent-stabilized units.

Breaking Ground hopes to start interior renovations in February 2019 and to begin moving tenants into the building in February 2020, the email says.

A spokeswoman for Breaking Ground was unable to provide comment about the plans for 90 Sands St. by press deadline.

Breaking Ground has been creating permanent supportive housing for homeless people since 1990. It currently operates more than 3,500 units of housing in New York City, upstate New York and Connecticut and is developing more than 1,000 additional units.

A Hotel with a Restaurant Like the Rainbow Room

Originally, RFR and Kushner Cos. had planned to turn 90 Sands St. into a 600-room hotel with lodging industry legend Ian Schrager, the co-owner of disco Studio 54 who went to prison for tax evasion and was later pardoned by President Barack Obama.

Schrager planned to build an “observatory-like restaurant” with views of the Manhattan skyline at the top of the hotel that he thought might become “Brooklyn’s answer to the Rainbow Room,” he told the New York Post in 2015.

RFR’s media contact did not respond by deadline to the Eagle’s query about why company executives decided not to go forward with the hotel project. Buzz-worthy new 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge recently opened nearby at the Pierhouse complex in Brooklyn Bridge Park.    

DUMBO Heights Is its Neighbor

The 90 Sands St. tower is located at the edge of DUMBO Heights, a hip, tech-oriented office complex recently created by Kushner Cos. and its investor partners from a cluster of former Bible-printing plants they bought from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The residential hotel and the printing plants were combined as a single package of properties the Watchtower agreed to sell to RFR, Kushner Cos. and its partners for $375 million in 2013 — with the proviso that the buyers wouldn’t be allowed to close on the residential hotel purchase until 2017.

The Watchtower sold the Bible-printing plants and 90 Sands St. as part of its liquidation of its once-massive property portfolio in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. The religious organization undertook the real estate sell-off because it relocated its world headquarters from 25-30 Columbia Heights to upstate Warwick, N.Y.


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