Watchtower Properties: $1 Billion? Really?

Brooklyn Heights resident and real estate broker Donald Brennan files this guest post:

After reading the ‘Real Deal on Watchtower Properties’ post here last week I got to thinking – a billion dollars, for 25 properties, where did that number come from?  While I am aware of the impeccable condition of these properties, inside and out, my initial reaction was – that’s crazy!  Isn’t it?  Maybe not.

In order to get a feel for what the estimated billion dollar price tag relates to in a more tangible metric I set out to determine the price per square foot for the portfolio.  I broke the properties down into three general categories – non-residential, residential and residential development – determined the approximate size of each property and derived a dollar per square foot value for each category based on recent comparable market transactions and the Watchtower’s own transaction record of previously owned properties.  The blended per square foot price works out to $260, which sounds low, doesn’t it?  So while we are in the middle of one of the biggest deleveraging cycles ever, the $1 Billion estimate may be understated.

So if market conditions do improve the portfolio may be worth more than a billion dollars.  And if there isn’t any improvement, well then they are still sitting on $1,000,000,000 of prime Brooklyn real estate.  Not the worst thing.

Brooklyn Heights resident and broker Donald Brennan hosts informal real estate discussions at his  home on the third Tuesday of each month. The next session is August17. Visit his website to RSVP and  for more information.

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  • Tom S

    For a religion that believes in the imminent end of the world, they sure did make some really smart long-term real estate investments.

  • Ben

    The sales of ALL these properties will change Brooklyn Heights for the better. I have my eye on a house with a garage in the north Heights, prime real estate in perfect condition and the garage makes this unusual property even more desirable. I recently wrote Watchtower, the owner of this parcel a letter offering a good price and the ability to close within 30 days of an inspection report. I have not had a response, yet. I do not know if this house is for sale but for the cost of a stamp I figured what the heck? I will keep you posted.

  • Ben

    I remember what a dump the Bossert Hotel was before Watchtower bought this — think of all of the business on Montague Street is this was sold and filled with residents who shop?

  • Obama?

    It’s most unfortunate that a cult chose a successful neighborhood like Brooklyn Heights as their holy land.

  • Obama?

    Yes, upper management seems to have a much different agenda (hint: $$$) from their Armageddon-embracing foot soldiers!

  • Obama?

    Yes, unlike ordinary residents of Brooklyn Heights, the Watchtower is highly self-sufficient from their upstate farms, dining halls, clothing donated by other members, etc. They are a real loss for our local businesses! (What do you expect when the average J.W. lives off a $100/month stipend? He/she won’t be shopping or dining on Montague Street very often.)

  • my2cents

    It wasn’t as successful a neighborhood back in the 60s when they first started buying land here and building stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Squibb building that now has the Watchtower sign on it was considered a “distressed” property back then. Now it is probably worth zillions.

  • T.K. Small

    As I rolled up the ramp at the north end of the Promenade the other day, I overheard two JWs talking. One was explaining to the other one that all of the floors of the building were dramatically slanted due to settling. I think he also surmised that this change in the building happened after the Promenade & BQE were built. Although I do not know exactly which building he was referencing, this would definitely affect the pricing.

  • AEB

    But what is Faith without the bucks to back it up?

  • Donald Brennan

    I wonder what the value is of their entire real estate portfolio – not just the Brooklyn Heights piece – and how it is diversified geographically. Wonder if it is over allocated to Bk Heights? Or if they care.

  • brooklynheightzer

    Off topic – just saw the building down at Pier 1 completely demolished. Nothing is left of it but a pile of rubble. I wonder if there is asbestos or any other hazardous material left in the remains that will spread all over the neighborhood. Thoughts, ideas, action?

  • jora-lemon

    It is new york city building code that prior to the demolition of a building all asbestos must be abated. You might remember that a couple of months passed between when the demolition of these buildings was announced and when it actually was visible. What was going on during that time period was asbestos abatement – erefore there should be no asbestos in that rubble.

  • lisa

    Wow! Why am I not surprised? That’s what all the 10% tithing members are required to contribute gets them! And that’s $1Billion+ in Brooklyn Heights alone.

  • T.K. Small

    I asked exact same question a few months back and didn’t get any response. I hope that jora-lemon is correct about the abatement process.

  • A Neighbor

    People who have lived in this neighborhood since the 60’s offer a different perspective on the Watchtower properties here. Over many years when the real estate market in the city — and Brooklyn Heights — was really weak and buildings here could be had for a song, the Watchtower was a buyer, helping keep BH prices up — and improving conditions in the neighborhood. As a result, properties weren’t as likely to be abandoned or converted into rooming houses — and stripped of detail. Also, when the Watchtower bought a property, they fixed up the buildings and maintained them well — a la the Bossert.

  • ABC

    this is why it irks me that the new PS8 annex has less than 10 new classrooms. there could be hundreds.. thousands of families moving in in the next 5 years… where will those kids go to school?

    doesn’t matter .. half these buildings will be become dorms.

  • Robyn

    Hey, Ben why don’t you splurge out and scoop up all JW properties. Then once you are in control you may even want to consider renaming the neighborhood to something like BENsonhurst

  • brooklynheightzer

    Let’s hope that all of it (asbestos) was gone before they demolished the building…

  • the commish

    Where did you get the 10%? Witnesses do not tithe, they don’t even pass a collection plate at their services. All monetary giving is voluntary!

  • John Wentling

    I can envision the nabe becoming a bit more diversified, so to speak – there’s the potential for thousands of housing units coming on the market, and rest assured, there will be demands that a certain percentage be set aside for “affordable housing”. The City could also end up purchasing and redeveloping one or more of those behemoth office buildings into senior or low income housing – with Fed insistence and aid (FHA) of course.

    The return of the “welfare hotel” might be in BH’s future.

  • Obama?

    I’m native born here since the 50s, and I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    The Watchtower exploited a weak housing market (NYC mismanagement/corruption) to turn residential buildings into dormitories for themselves.

    The Watchtower evicted the tenants from apartment buildings they bought, before laws prevented them from doing so!

    You claim the Watchtower saved buildings from being abandoned & turned into rooming houses? As if no one else would want to buy an “abandoned” building on Columbia Heights or Willow Street? Are you kidding me?

    The only reason the Watchtower didn’t strip all their buildings of detail was the Landmarks Preservation Commission! (Just look at the highrise junk they built on Columbia Hts between Orange & Pinapple Sts. before Landmarks.)

    As if only the Watchtower could have “saved” a prime building like the Bossert (and turned it into their dormitory) ???

  • Obama?

    Is being under religious/cult coercion really voluntary?

  • Obama?

    So Brooklyn Heights owes it’s success as a neighborhood to the Watchtower “buying land here & building stuff”??? I don’t think so!

  • Lisa

    Yes. All religions say it’s voluntary to tithe. But the money comes from somewhere. The biggest landowners and property owners in the world are the various religions. Kind of makes you wonder.

  • Lisa

    Let’s not forget that missions are required, or at least highly “recommended”, to recruit or raise money for the church. That’s “voluntary” labor at no cost to the church on the part of it’s parishioners.

  • ABC

    The Witnesses sell for tip top dollar. The city does not. There is no chance the city will buy any of these buildings. In fact, the city has SOLD local buildings like Poplar Police Station for very little money.

    There will be no demands for affordable housing. The city can’t just jump into a private sale and demand a certain percentage be set aside for senior or affordable housing.

    To add some controversy: this is partly the legacy of the Mitchell-Lama protesters. There was a public/private partnership to create affordable housing. But when the term ran out, and residents freaked out that they only got 15 or 20 years of below-market rent and dragged everyone thru court, private developers said, never again.

  • T.K. Small

    Isn’t your real beef with the city’s alleged mismanagement and the free market, and not with the Witnesses. What specifically did they do that was illegal? Your own statement proves my point “The Watchtower evicted the tenants from apartment buildings they bought, before laws prevented them from doing so!”. From my viewpoint, they made an informed decision and bought properties which then appreciated dramatically. That is called the marketplace.

    In terms of the preservation of buildings by the Witnesses, it is undeniable that they did a good job with the Bossert. That building was more than sketchy for many years and simply rolling by the location gave me the creeps. I am glad that they had deep pockets and cleaned it up. Anybody could have bought the property and cleaned it up, but they didn’t.

    And, as to whether they are cult, one could make that accusation of practically any religion or extreme political groups. The libertarians virtually worship Ayn Rand. Are they also a cult? Whether we like, understand or want to be a member of their group is irrelevant.

  • Obama?

    My beef is against NYC gov’t & the Witnesses!

    Just because the half-baked law allowed these “god-loving” folks to evict long-time residents, they were compelled to take advantage & actually do this? (Ever hear of morals, ethics, & decency?)

    Moreover, should we assume a cult that preaches the virtues of Armageddon to attract the weak-minded & desperate, while their “leaders” are major real-estate players, don’t also engage in other dishonest activities, including shady real estate dealings with the City?

    Furthermore, the Bossert could have & should have been turned into housing people in our city need, not dormitories for cultists from far away, who pay no taxes & choose to remain apart from the neighborhood.

    Lastly, since no other religion bought up almost half my neighborhood, under false pretenses of Armageddon no less, my beef is indeed with the Watchtower & the City gov’t that allowed them to run amok here.

    (I didn’t even mention the very suspicious Hotel Margaret fire, in which the landmark building was razed, days before the first co-op tenants were to start moving in. Next thing I knew, a modern building went up & was quickly bought by the J.W.s for yet another dormitory.)

  • T.K. Small

    Are you proposing that government get into the religion verification and regulation of business? The first clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I think that the Supreme Court would not endorse your proposal. If you want to take away the tax free status from all religions, that at least would have a chance at passing constitutional muster.

    I have this funny thing about not having people question my beliefs and it only seems to offer the same in return.

  • pacemanstl

    Its plain that Obama commenter has a axe to grind, and that he buys into the “conspiracy theory” of the scared, misinformed, and the I don’t care about the facts, just give me the knee jerk quote, so i can slam them and keep my opinion’ crowd. The same crowd that was willing to jump on Mrs Sherrod, as a rascist w/o the whole quote, because they had their agenda in place, despite facts to the contrary. It doesn’t matter how much good, they may do, as in NO ONE in the heights was ever robbed, raped or threatened by all those Bible toting, clean cut WT people!