Jehovah's Witnesses 'investigating' uses for former FAA building

The Daytona Beach News-Journal/July 3, 2014

By Tony Holt

Palm Coast -- Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hope their newly purchased building will help them in their mission to spread Bible teachings and inspire more people across the globe.

A training center formerly used by the Federal Aviation Administration and owned by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach was sold to the religious organization on June 27 for more than $7 million.

The FAA occupied the building for about 25 years until the beginning of 2013, when university and local government officials began looking for a new tenant.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the official entity that bought the building, is a legal corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to facilitate their message and the “Watchtower” is one of two Bible-based magazines it publishes.

No final decision has been made on how the resort-like property will be used, although an Embry-Riddle representative said he was told it would be used for “training purposes,” which is how the FAA used it.

“We can confirm that Jehovah’s Witnesses have purchased the former FAA training center in Palm Coast, Florida,” the religious organization stated in an email to The News-Journal. “We are still investigating uses for this facility that are in harmony with the purpose of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, as stated in its charter, to promote global Bible education.”

Rodney Cruise, vice president for administration at Embry-Riddle, said Watchtower had communicated to him that it would occupy and open the building in September or October.

Located in what is considered the “old section” of Palm Coast, the building at 4500 Palm Coast Parkway SE contains about 200 dormitory rooms, eight classrooms and various amenities, including an indoor pool. When the FAA declined to renew the lease and relocated its management training program to Oklahoma City 18 months ago, it cost the local area up to 100 jobs, according to reports.

“The occupancy of any empty building this size is very important to the continued progress of economic growth within our community,” said Deputy Flagler County Administrator Sally A. Sherman.

“Since the FAA left ... the biggest challenge has been trying to find a tenant to occupy the large space and all the nice amenities that are on the site. Occupied buildings thrive.”

Jeff Muller, a local elder at one of Palm Coast’s two Kingdom Halls, said there are close to 1,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Palm Coast.

He said the city will benefit from the real estate purchase.

“Typically, Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their (facilities) very immaculate,” Muller said. “Their buildings are always jewels to the community, and having that in Palm Coast is wonderful.”

Bible teachings are a major component to the religion, which is known for having members who go door-to-door to distribute magazines and educate people on their beliefs.

Jehovah’s Witnesses identify themselves as Christians because they believe Jesus Christ is the “key to salvation,” but they acknowledge their differences with other Christian organizations. They don’t celebrate holidays or birthdays, nor do they believe Jesus is part of any Holy Trinity. They also don’t use religious titles because they don’t believe in elevating one Christian over another.

A report released a few years ago by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life stated Jehovah’s Witnesses had one of the highest attrition rates of any major religion — about two-thirds.

However, the number of people who leave the religion year after year is basically matched by its number of converts, according to the same study.

Palm Coast Vice Mayor Jason DeLorenzo was mostly optimistic about the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society buying the former FAA building.

“It’s not the type of business we think of often, but it’s still a business,” he said.

He mentioned the likelihood of the buyer not having to pay taxes on the property because it is a religious organization, but added that was only a “small picture” concern.

“They’re probably going to spend some out-of-town dollars and that’s good for the local economy,” DeLorenzo said. “Overall, I think it’s good news.”

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