Exodus! Jehovah's Witnesses begin Brooklyn Heights pullout

The Brooklyn Paper/February 25, 2010

By Andy Campbell

It's official the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society - better known as the Jehovah's Witnesses - are pulling out of Brooklyn.

More than 101 years of history will be left behind as the Brooklyn-ingrained sect moves forward with an $11.5-million residential and administrative headquarters in upstate Warwick.

"We've applied to build a complex and we've started the land-use review process," said Richard Devine, property manager for the organization.

The new center would be the culmination of a multi-year retrenchment from Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO. The first step came in 2004, when the Witnesses moved their massive printing plant upstate.

And last year, the Watchtower Society bought a 248-acre site in Ramapo that will be used for offices and some administration, Devine said.

Now, the Witnesses are planning a complex called the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses that will be constructed on the 253-acre Warwick site. More than half of the 1,500-person staff is expected to move the new complex, and will live and work under the same roof.

Devine said the organization is still measuring what to do with roughly 30 buildings and lots that the Witnesses have accumulated in the Heights and DUMBO over the years.

The upstate exodus for the Witnesses - known for their Bible publishing, their door-to-door conversions and their excellent real-estate savvy - is no big surprise given the group's explosion of property sales since 2004, including:

In addition, three properties on Columbia Heights, one on Willow Street and one on Orange Street have been on and off the market over the years, driven by the fluctuation of the housing market. Devine said that the group still plans to sell those, but doesn't know yet what would be done with the current headquarters and nearby administrative building (both also on Columbia Heights) once the move is complete.

The new complex's construction is still in the distant future, but one thing's for sure - the organization is all about moving forward rather than looking back.

"As an organization, we don't put any special importance [on our Brooklyn Heights history]," Devine said. "Sure, some feel some sentimental value, and I've been here for 30 years. But we're committed to moving all our operations to one central location."

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