From evangelism to tech evangelism, change afoot in Dumbo

From evangelism to tech evangelism, change afoot in Dumbo
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Dumbo is saying so long, Jehovah’s Witnesses, hello, technology.

Developer Kushner Companies, which purchased six of the Watchtower properties for $375 million last year, has unveiled its plan for a five-building complex that will convert the former headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society into an office campus catering to technology companies. Business groups hope the project will help alleviate a dearth of available office space in Dumbo and Downtown and spur future investment in new office construction.

“This is really going to be a game-changer,” said Alexandria Sica, executive director of the Dumbo Improvement District. “It’s a testament to the strength of the commercial market here.”

Sica puts vacancy rates in Dumbo at less than 1 percent and said she frequently fields calls from new companies looking to move into the neighborhood, and from companies already there that want to expand, but the lack of space forces her to send many looking elsewhere.

“As soon as something hits the market it gets leased pretty quickly,” said Sica.

The former Watchtower buildings — located at 117 Adams St. between Sands and York streets; 175 Pearl St. between Sands and High streets; 55 Prospect St. between Adams and Pearl streets; 81 Prospect St. between Pearl and Jay streets; and 77 Sands St. between Pearl and York streets — are all zoned for commercial and industrial use. A sixth property, a hotel at 90 Sands St. between Pearl and Jay streets, was also included in the sale last year, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to use that building until 2017.

Realtors Livwrk and RFR are working with Kushner on the new office campus, which the development team has dubbed Dumbo Heights. The five buildings are connected by footbridges and will contain offices with open floor plans of varying shapes and sizes, according to a website for the project. The complex includes enough office space to nearly cover 21 football fields, and is slated to include amenities such as roof decks, a gourmet market, and health facilities, the website says.

The compound is also set to feature retail space that amounts to about half the size of the Target in Atlantic Terminal.

The retail piece of the project as planned would line the streets with new shops and restaurants, bringing activity to the mostly empty blocks between the buildings. The new bustle will extend the footprint of Dumbo’s primary core, the area’s pro–business group says.

“Those buildings have not interacted with the rest of Dumbo in many years,” Sica said. “This project is going to dramatically change the streetscape there.”

The project is expected to cost $100 million and should open in early 2015, the New York Daily News reported.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.