The Jehovah's Witnesses, the door-knocking religious group that has been based in Brooklyn for a century, is selling its headquarters and other properties for an expected price tag of $1 billion or more. The Witnesses' move to Warwick, a town about an hour north of New York City, will likely mean the end of the complex's most well-known feature, the neon "Watchtower" sign advertising the church's flagship publication. But it will free up hundreds of thousands of square feet for businesses and apartments in a now-trendy neighborhood at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. "It's going to be incredibly transformative," says the executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District, a business group.
The Witnesses bought their 733,000-square-foot headquarters from Squibb Pharmaceuticals for $3 million in 1969. It was placed on the market this month along with a nearby apartment building and a 135,000-square-foot lot. Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Richard Devine says the move from a "big, scattered campus" will allow the organization to operate more efficiently. The church had owned 36 separate Brooklyn properties before it began selling them off in preparation for the move upstate. Devine says 100,000 people a year visit the Brooklyn headquarters, but the Warwick facility will probably get more visitors when it opens in 2017. "To be honest with you," he says, "many people find New York City intimidating."