Watch this space: Watchtower unloads six buildings for a song

The Watchtower building in DUMBO is among the six properties being sold for $375 million by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., the business arm of the Jehova’s Witnesses.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

One of DUMBO’s largest landowners is moving out — and it has sold its property for a song.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, better known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has unloaded six factory-style buildings in the booming neighborhood for $375 million, a discounted price that has experts believing the tall, fat structures won’t be converted into expensive condos anytime soon.

“I suspect that these will be kept for [office use],” said Stevie Palmese, a realtor with Massey Knakal who claimed the city would not change zoning to allow residential in the massive footprint.

The cluster of six properties, 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; 77 Sands St. between Pearl and York streets, and 90 Sands St. between Pearl and Jay streets, which are zoned for manufacturing and commercial use, could become a major player in the so-called Brooklyn Tech Triangle, which Downtown policy-makers are touting as the next Silicon Valley.

“These properties feature large, creative office space right in the heart of the growing Brooklyn Tech Triangle,” said Jared Kushner, chief executive officer of Kushner Companies, which purchased the buildings. “We look forward to playing a key role in the continued improvement of the neighborhood and advancement of the market.”

The fact that the properties won’t become a mixed-used of housing and commercial spaces scared off some potential buyers — including Two Trees Management, which famously converted manufacturing space to residences during the 1990s, reviving a neighborhood as it shed its industrial past.

Two Trees head Jed Walentas said his company did put in a bid for the land — but it was even lower than the one finally accepted by the Witnesses.

The Watchtower, which did not return calls for comments by press time, has been working for the last decade to sell more than 30 of its properties in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO as it moves its operations upstate. Its property in Brooklyn has been used to house sect members and run a printing press — and it has been selling them off since 2004 for massive profits.

One of the first to go, 360 Furman St. — now One Brooklyn Bridge Park — went for $205 million back in 2004. Late last year, the Bossert Hotel on Montague Street at Hicks Street — where the Brooklyn Dodgers celebrated their World Series championship in 1955 — sold for $81 million. It will be turned back into a hotel after spending years as a dorm for Watchtower members.

The most recent sale involves buildings that have been owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society for about a century. All the buildings have M1-6 zoning, meaning that they are limited to manufacturing or commercial use. They will be redeveloped in partnership with Livwrk Holdings, according to a statement from the companies.

Kushner and RFR, which jointly purchased the property, did not respond to requests for additional comment.

The sale, which will return the buildings to the tax roll once a non-religious organization takes control, could even have an effect on the amount of condominiums that are constructed inside Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Park backers have for years hoped that the city would consider building less housing in the park if new property tax dollars raised once the Jehovah’s Witnesses moved out of the area could offset the costs of running the greenspace.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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