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Selloff! But Witnesses say they will remain kings of Kings

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses may be selling a third of their Brooklyn Heights holdings, but the religious sect, a neighborhood fixture for almost a century, says it’s not going anywhere.

Talk of an exodus was sparked this week when the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society — the Witnesses’ publishing arm — announced it was selling six of its 18 Brooklyn Heights properties, including the 128-unit Standish Arms Hotel on Columbia Heights. The organization owns another 12 buildings in nearby DUMBO.

“We are selling these buildings because we’ve moved most of our printing and shipping to Wallkill in upstate New York,” said Watchtower spokesman Richard Devine. “But we are keeping a dozen other buildings that we own in Brooklyn Heights. Our worldwide headquarters is still here.”

The Watchtower society, which is headquartered at 25 Columbia Heights, began buying up real estate in Brooklyn Heights in the 1980s. They also own properties in DUMBO, principally on Front Street, Jay Street and Adams Street. The Witnesses also own two large parking lots in the neighborhood.

The Brooklyn Heights buildings are scattered throughout Columbia Heights, Clark Street, Willow Street and Remsen Street, and are all residential, mostly housing Witnesses who work in the society’s massive printing facilities.

“When we had our entire operation down here, we needed housing for all our workers,” said Devine.

The Witnesses have been a fixture in Brooklyn Heights since 1909, when their governing body of elders — the sect’s highest authority — set up facilities for the printing and distribution of their own translation of the Bible, plus the ubiquitous religious magazines, “Watchtower” and “Awake!”

As printing operations expanded, the Society kept buying real estate, in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, to house thousands of volunteers and missionaries.

The Witnesses started the slow move north in 2004, and have been selling off their marquis properties, including 360 Furman St., a former Bible shipping facility that was sold for $205 million and is now being developed into luxury condos, promoted as One Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Last year, the sect sold 67 Livingston St., a 76-unit tower known in the neighborhood as the Sliver Building for the way its thin 26 stories are wedged in between the wider buildings on the street. A private investor bought the building for $18.6 million.

A building at 89 Hicks St. was sold to Brooklyn Law School last year for $14 million, according to city records. The 42-unit building is a mix of studios and one-bedroom apartments.

Now comes the latest trophy properties to go on the block.

The Standish Arms — a 12-story building at 169 Columbia Heights — is being sold in a portfolio that includes a seven-story, 13-apartment building at 183 Columbia Heights and a four-story, 10-apartment building at 161 Columbia Heights.

Three other buildings — a two-story carriage house at 165 Columbia Heights, a four-story brownstone at 105 Willow St., and a four-story house at 34 Orange St. — are being sold separately, said Devine.

As with other property they have sold, the Watching is handling the sale internally, and will not set an asking price.

The inclusion of the Standish Arms on the list of properties up for grabs has prompted speculation from some, and sighs of longing from others, about the possible sale of the former Bossert Hotel on Montague Street, which the Watchtower society also owns.

But Devine says that after these six buildings are sold, there are no plans to sell any more properties.

Real-estate experts said the Witnesses were poised to make a lot of filthy lucre. The group paid just $830,000 for 105 Willow St. in 1988, city records show. But it will sell for at least six times that amount according to broker Jean Austin of Brooklyn Bridge Realty.

“The building could sell for $6 million — give or take,” said Austin.

The Standish Arms is the big-ticket item, added Brooklyn Bridge Realty owner Ellen Gottlieb. A developer could offer anywhere from $25–$35 million, she added.

All told, Austin and Gottlieb estimated, if the buildings are sold at their highest possible prices, the six could sell for $44–$62 million.

Neighborhood residents say the Witnesses have been good neighbors, though they’ve kept themselves apart from the community.

“If families start moving in, it’ll probably get a bit livelier around here,” said one man. “They didn’t really interact with everyone around them.”

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Reasonable discourse

a from tx says:
you all are wrong!
July 16, 2009, 11:14 pm
ab from southern california says:
jw are not quiet.... they are the ones speaking out about god and the world. if they are selling property, they are doing the same as everyone else....trying to get out before its too late! i love jehovah, and god would make sure the truth makes it out alright.
April 7, 2010, 7:47 am
Patricia Hale from Houston, Tx says:
J.W. are selling property for the reason they said. Tell me who would not like to make a profit if it is lawful to do so,with this property sold we will spread the message for mankinds benefit,money is a means to help others. Do you notice we do not beg for money like some personages. We operate on donations only who else can claim that. With Jehovahs backing we continue to do his will on earth.

I would like to be quoted as is, why modify it
Oct. 22, 2010, 1:38 pm
Elisbeth Reinhold from NY says:
Brooklyn,(have fond memories) has served its purpose and will continue to do so for a time. Way back when before computers and the internet>> the way to get lit. and supplies out ( in a cost effective way) on a world wide scale was via shipping. Times have changed. At that time JW were centralized. Today we are not. We have facilities (called Branches) all over the world. If something happens to one area, another area can take over. None of these decisions were made without prayer and waiting for direction which road to take. Jehovah continues to direct us. His way has been and always will >> prove to be successful.
Dec. 31, 2012, 1:40 pm
Patricia Dixon from New Zealand says:
A wonderful privilege to be part of this Organization. Just to quote we are not a sect. We are and will always be known as Jehovah Witness bible students. Why? because we continue to take in knowledge.Our name was founded from in the Bible..Psalm 83:18... We are solely funded by our own donations... Now that the buildings are sold for a substantial amount the 'spreading of the good news ' will continue....Mathew 24:14..
Aug. 14, 2016, 1:50 pm
ET from New England says:
... or to pay for all the child sex abuse lawsuits all over the world....
Jan. 22, 2017, 5:38 pm

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