Jehovah's Witnesses to sell buildings, move upstate

WABC News, New York/April 5, 2012

New York -- In the next few years, Brooklyn could see one of the largest turnovers in real estate, all thanks to one seller. The Jehovah's Witnesses are planning to sell all 34 of its buildings as they move their operations upstate.

The scope of the church's holdings is massive, 3.2 million square feet, more than the Empire State Building. It's being valued at more than $1 billion, and once the properties are turned over to private owners, the tax dollars will be flowing.

The Watchtower buildings in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights have been a fixture since 1909, when the Jehovah's Witnesses began buying up properties, one by one. Church members have quietly lived and worked there for decades. But now, the church has outgrown its facilities and is planning to move upstate, leaving prime real estate up for grabs.

"It's a beautiful location," said Richard Devine, of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. "I very much enjoy living here. Brooklyn Heights is a wonderful place to be. And we enjoy the neighborhood. We enjoy our neighbors. New York is a vibrant city. I personally have very mixed emotions about leaving the city. I really love it here."

Part of the appeal of the buildings, aside from location, is their condition. The Jehovah's are known for their meticulous upkeep. The Leverich Towers Hotel was built in 1928, and it has been fully restored and used as apartments. The view from the roof is spectacular, and the possibilities are endless. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz knows what he would like to see.

"I, for one, hope that in the high-tech area, that the emphasis will be on alternative energy, as well as medical," he said. "Meaning scientific applications in terms of diseases. That's what I'm hoping we'll develop here."

The transition will take years to complete, with construction not yet underway for the Watchtower's new headquarters in Warwick. But once the buildings are sold, it could bring City Hall millions of dollars a year in tax revenue.

The move upstate has been under consideration for some time. Seven years ago, they moved their printing operations up to Wallkill to print Awake and Watchtower. The two monthly publications have a combined circulation of 70 million.

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