Jehovah's Witnesses sell first property for $7.1M

Price was slightly under the sum that the religious order had sought when it put the property on the market along with seven other buildings last year.

Crain Business News, New York/January 3, 2012

The first of several properties in Brooklyn Heights that were recently put on the market by the Jehovah's Witnesses has been sold. The price paid was $7.1 million, slightly under its asking price, according to Massey Knakal Realty Services, the brokerage that was retained to sell three of the Witnesses' buildings valued at a total of $18.45 million in the neighborhood.

The five-story, 20-unit elevator building at 50 Orange St. was sold in an all cash deal, said Robert Knakal, chairman of the brokerage. The sale closed on Dec. 13. The Jehovah Witnesses' business arm, the nonprofit Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, bought the property for an undisclosed sum in 1988 and used it as a residence for the members of its religious order. Last year, the group, which is thinking about moving its headquarters upstate, decided to sell the property along with seven other buildings, ranging from a carriage house to a seven-story apartment building.

The new owner of 50 Orange St. was not disclosed. A spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses confirmed the sale, but referred further comment to Mr. Knakal.

"The building was delivered vacant and in exceptional condition," said Mr. Knakal. "The sale price was in line with expectations."

The residential building, which was renovated in 2006, had an asking price of $7.4 million and had been on the market since April, the same time two other properties at 183 Columbia Heights and 161 Columbia Heights in the neighborhood went up for sale. According to Mr. Knakal, sale contracts for the two other properties have also been sent out. 183 Columbia, a 13-unit, seven-story apartment building with 10-foot ceilings, has an asking price of $7.1 million and 161 Columbia Heights, a seven-unit apartment building with one rent stabilized tenant and two rent controlled tenants, has an asking price of $3.5 million.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, who have called Brooklyn their home since 1909, are the largest landlord in the Brooklyn Heights area. The group has accumulated 34 properties totaling 3.2 million square feet over the course of two decades and created a self-sustaining community in the Brooklyn area. The Jehovah's Witnesses have been known to keep their real estate holdings in mint condition and all of its holdings are expected to attract a slew of buyers.

The group decided to put eight of its buildings up for sale last summer as it considers a move upstate. In 2009, it bought a 250-acre forested site in Warwick, N.Y., and soon after began to pursue plans to build a campus there. While the group declined to comment on its Brooklyn exit and the sale of the rest of its properties, observers said their departure is inevitable.

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