Tuesday hearing about replacing the Watchtower sign on the former Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters
There’s been a void in the scenery on the Brooklyn waterfront since the new owner of the old Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters took down the iconic Watchtower sign in December.
If a city Buildings Department determination is allowed to stand, there won’t be another sign to replace it.
Columbia Heights Associates, which now owns the religious group’s former headquarters, is appealing a decision by the Buildings Department to disapprove the replacement of the famous old sign. The agency issued the determination in April.
On Tuesday, the city Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall in Lower Manhattan, during which law firm Fried Frank LLP will lay out the property owner’s arguments for allowing a new sign to be erected.
“Our plans to reactivate this historic Brooklyn site, creating thousands of jobs and adding to the vibrancy of the waterfront, include the continued use of signage,” a spokesman for CIM Group told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Columbia Heights Associates is a joint venture that consists of CIM Group and LIVWRK Holdings.
“Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents the district, supports our position and we remain confident that the final determination will be that the sign can continue to be used for building tenants in the future,” CIM Group’s spokesman said.
The new owner of the five-building complex at 25-30 Columbia Heights has given the property a new name, which is Panorama.
A Buildings Department spokeswoman defended the agency’s decision to say no to a replacement for the Watchtower sign.
“We closely reviewed the proposal for this sign before issuing our final disapproval. We stand by our decision,” a Buildings Department spokeswoman told the Eagle.
The red electric Watchtower sign, which was visible from Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan, was a famed fixture of the shoreline for nearly a half-century. Local residents have been waiting to see what will take its place.
Columbia Heights Associates is converting the Watchtower headquarters into an office development with stores and public space for arts and culture.
The complex is located across the street from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
A rendering posted outside 25-30 Columbia Heights shows a new glowing red sign that says “Panorama.”
Buildings Department doesn’t think the sign should be grandfathered in
A source explained the thinking behind the Buildings Department’s decision to say no to putting up another sign on 30 Columbia Heights.
It’s prohibited by current zoning regulations, the source said.
And though the Watchtower sign had been erected before current zoning regulations went into effect, the agency decided the sign should not be grandfathered in because the property owner didn’t provide proof that the sign had been put up legally, in other words with a permit, in the first place.
Kushner Cos. was part of the Columbia Heights Associates joint venture when it bought 25-30 Columbia Heights for $340 million in 2016.
Kushner Cos. was headed by Jared Kushner until he stepped aside to become a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses sold the property before moving their world headquarters to upstate Warwick, New York.
This year, Kushner Cos. sold its stake in 25-30 Columbia Heights to CIM Group.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses put the Watchtower sign on the building in September 1970.
Before that, the sign on top of the complex said “Squibb.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses had bought 25-30 Columbia Heights from E.R. Squibb & Sons in 1969.
The Watchtower sign’s 15-foot-tall letters were lit with neon until 2009, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses switched to light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
In December, when workers removed the Watchtower sign from 30 Columbia Heights, they left intact a flashing sign that tells the time and temperature.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses put the Watchtower letters in storage in one of their upstate New York facilities. They didn’t have any plans to “repurpose” the letters, a spokesman for the religious organization told the Eagle in December.
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