Necessity is the mother of re-invention.
The development team once led by Jared Kushner — who earlier this month was named a focus in the FBI’s Russia investigation — revealed plans on May 31 to transform the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Brooklyn Heights headquarters into a swanky office complex, along with a new name that bears no trace of Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
The development — marketed as Panorama — is owned by builders Kushner Companies, LIVWRK, and investor CIM Group, who ditched their individual identities for the joint name Columbia Heights Associates in announcing it.
But having the president’s controversial advisor’s name tied to the complex likely will not drive away businesses looking to sign a lease, according to one broker.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue for most tenants, that’s a really hard one to speculate on,” said Jakub Nowak, a commercial broker for Marcus and Millichap. “I don’t see it being a big factor.”
But some companies already have shown aversion to setting up shop in a Trump-associated office.
News outlet The Guardian made headlines when it scrapped its plan to move into Dumbo Heights — another Kushner Companies and LIVWRK-owned office complex in the old Jehovah’s Witness printing plant — after journalists objected to writing in a building owned by Kushner.
And a rep for e-marketplace Etsy, which rents there along with the co-working space WeWork, told this paper it had not considered its landlord would rise to become the President Trump’s right hand man when it signed a 10-year lease in 2014.
Kushner and his partners marketed Dumbo Heights under their individual names, but their re-branding as Columbia Heights Associates is just protocol, not an attempt to distance the Panorama project from the Kushner name, according to a spokesman.
Kushner — who is married to Ivanka Trump — stepped down from his role as the chief executive of Kushner Companies in January, but refused to divest himself from certain assets, including Panorama.
He and his partners paid $340 million in August for the two-city-block-sized building and three neighboring Columbia Heights properties that they plan to turn into a skyway-connected campus for roughly 5,000 workers and retail space.
The complex is located in an area known for attracting tech start-ups and drawing talented graduates from nearby New York University Tandon School of Engineering and the New York City College of Technology.
The owners seek tenants that include creative economy firms and traditional companies, according to a spokesman, although the head of LIVWRK said he wants one major international tenant to fill the space, magazine Fast Company reported.
The location and floor plans of the complex’s buildings will appeal to the types of creative businesses developers hope to attract, according to Nowak.
“It’s ripe for any type of technology, advertising, media, or information tenancy,” he said.
“The buildings’ wide open floor plans are what creative tenants are looking for.”
Workers are hacking away at the interior of the old Witness headquarters, according to a spokesman, and the complex should be ready for tenants sometime next year.
The headquarters is best known for its 47-year-old “Watchtower” sign that looms over the Dumbo skyline and a rendering shows some sort of sign perched atop the new building, but a spokesman declined to comment on the future of the iconic placard.