The Real Deal New York

The secret to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ RE success? Maintenance and patience

Religious organization moved to Warwick after having made $1.3B on over 20 buildings

September 22, 2016 10:50AM

Jehovah's Witnesses Brooklyn

Picture of 25-30 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights (credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are packing their bibles and are in the process of leaving Brooklyn for upstate New York.

The religious group been criticized for not allocating any profits toward community uses and for benefiting from upzonings designed to help nonprofits, but many real estate players credit them as being a positive force in Brooklyn over the last 107 years.

When the rest of Brooklyn Heights was besieged by crime and blight in the 1960s and 1970s, the Witnesses snapped up properties and meticulously maintained them. “The Bossert Hotel, when they bought it, was a mess,” Citi Habitats’ TRData LogoTINY Christopher Havens told the Commercial Observer. “There were hookers there.”

The Witnesses sold the hotel to Clipper Equities and the Chetrit Group in 2012 for $81 million. It’s expected to reopen this year.

Part of the group’s real estate success seems rooted in its religious philosophy.

“We view our work as part of our worship,” said Richard Devine, a spokesperson for the Witnesses. “Our buildings, of course, represent our God and our worship. We just took that very, very seriously.”

At one point, the Witnesses held 4.5 million square feet over 30 buildings. They’re down to nine buildings, having made about $1.25 billion on staggered sales since 2004, according to the CO.

In August, a partnership between Kushner Comapnies, CIM Group and LIVWRK closed on the flagship Watchtower building for $340 million.

“The selling off in a systematic manner worked to their benefit because they set the market,” said Timothy King of CPEX Real Estate. “Each sale almost set a record for one [transaction] but then raised the bar for the next one. This was very thoroughly thought out and executed.” [CO]James Kleimann

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