Furman-Atlantic Witness building goes to contract

The Brooklyn Paper
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A developer is in contract with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to buy the religious order’s mammoth, 12-story waterfront building at 360 Furman St.

While several developers expressed interest in the site, RAL Development Services purchased the Brooklyn Heights property for an undisclosed sum and plans to convert the 1 million-square-foot book and video distribution center into waterfront apartments, as first reported by The Brooklyn Papers.

The Manhattan-based company is best known for converting the Arthur Levitt State office building at 270 Broadway into residential and commercial use.

The Furman Street building, which rises at the end of Atlantic Avenue, between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the East River, will serve as a gateway to the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park, a 1.3-mile commercial and recreational waterfront development between Vinegar Hill and Brooklyn Heights.

David Semonian, a spokesman for the Watchtower Society, commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, declined to comment on the sale price of the building but said all the proceeds would go towards “worldwide Bible education work.”

According to sources, the building sold for $200 million.

The Watchtower society acquired the property in 1983 and own approximately 35 buildings throughout DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. They have moved some of their printing plants to upstate Wallkill.

“It was our aim to not only sell the building but to locate a buyer who was interested in the objectives and goals of the community,” said Semonian.

Robert Levine, president and principal owner of RAL, says he is currently in discussions with the city and state to determine the future uses of the building and what relationship it will have to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“We plan to use 360 Furman St. to enhance the southern gateway to the new park and provide an exciting waterfront destination,” Levine said in a written statement.

Details of the relationship between the building and the park are still being hashed out.

In November, Councilman David Yassky sent a letter to Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff requesting that the taxes generated from the sale go into funding the park. Any new taxes generated from the building would be new revenue since the building has been tax exempt because it is owned by a religious organization.

“In this fiscal crisis, New York City has little money to create and sustain parks, we need to find creative ways to guarantee income for the Brooklyn Bridge Park,” Yassky wrote.

Deborah Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp. (BBPDC), a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp. charged with building the park, said BBPDC officials are in discussions with the developer to determine whether the building should be included in the boundary of the park.

The deal is expected to close in May and the Watchtower society will remain in the building for one more year.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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