Turning a page and beginning a new chapter in its history, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York is closing on the sale of five of six of its Brooklyn properties. Watchtower, a legal entity of the Jehovah's Witnesses, finalized the deal last month for $375 million, making way for the relocation of its world headquarters to upstate Orange County.
A joint venture of RFR Realty Corp., Kushner Companies and equity investors has acquired 117 Adams St.; 77 Sands St.; 55 Prospect St.; 81 Prospect St.; and 175 Pearl St. A sixth property, 90 Sands St., a 30-story residential property for members of the organization, is expected to close in 2017. The properties range in size but encompass a total of 1.2 million square feet.
The buildings were "quite significant" to the Jehovah's Witnesses and represent a major part of the organization's history, David Semonian, a spokesman for the Witnesses said in a video release. Over the course of 77 years, the facilities were used to print and produce Bibles and Bible-based materials, he said.
A team from Greenberg Traurig represented RFR Realty and Kushner in the complex deal that included joint venture agreements, acquisitions, leaseback components and financing. The team was led by Robert Ivanhoe, chair, global real estate practice; Stephen Rabinowitz, chair, New York real estate practice; Deirdre Carson, Joseph Farrell and Kristen Lonergan, shareholders; John Mascialino, chair, New York government law and policy practice; and Adam Goldstein, associate. In addition, William Siegel, cochair, of the firm's Miami practice, represented the joint venture.
Stephen Lefkowitz, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and associate Tannaz Simyar represented Watchtower. Brian Lichter, who at the time was a partner at Fried Frank, was also on the team. He is now a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Watchtower was represented in-house by Richard Moake, associate general counsel in Patterson, N.J.
Fried Frank is also counsel to the Kushner Companies in the rezoning of the properties. Lefkowitz,along with Richard Leland, partner, and Zachary Bernstein, associate, are handling the rezoning of the site.
"We're buying some really first-rate buildings," Jared Kushner, CEO of Kushner Companies and owner of the Observer Media Group, told the Witnesses in an online video interview.
The buildings, which connect DUMBO and downtown, are situated in the "Brooklyn tech triangle" and have the "ability to be the heart of the triangle," Kushner said. The Watchtower properties were reportedly zoned for commercial and manufacturing use.
The new ownership will reportedly undertake a $100 million renovation to reposition the buildings to include 150,000 sq. feet of retail space and pedestrian plazas. CPX Real Estate has been appointed to market and lease the buildings' retail space with an eye on Brooklyn-based business, according to the Commercial Observer.