The Jehovah’s Witness Christian denomination, founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russel and best-known around the world for knocking on people’s doors in the middle of the day, as well as the printing and distribution of its Watchtower and Awake! magazines, is said to have more than eight million adherents and brings in revenues, in the form of donations, reported to have exceeded $950 million in 2001. However, after reportedly high overheads, a ‘cash crunch’ has necessitated the sale of some of the religious order’s more valuable real estate around the world, which is now set to include the majority of its UK property portfolio.
Back in December 2015, the group continued its recent trend of unloading its expensive, Brooklyn-based properties, by putting its flagship Watchtower headquarters compound on the market, ending the New York borough’s century-long term as the home of the Jehovah’s Witness movement. A statement from the religion’s governing body said that the ad-hoc way it had acquired property over the years had led to its campus being far too spread out and therefore difficult to manage, therefore it was selling off the properties and centralising its organisation in the town of Warwick, in upstate New York. The Daily Mail reported that the sale should generate around $1 billion for the Witnesses.
Flash forward to the beginning of April 2016, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses is selling off some of its larger temples and more expensive buildings in Jamaica. This time, overheads are cited as the reason, chiefly electricity, maintenance and staffing. A Witness who asked not to be named, as they are not an official spokesperson for the religion, said that ‘improvements in technology have made it easier for communication between individuals, and so staffing for the temples became redundant.’
By the end of April 2016, the Watchtower had been sold to a consortium of developers, which includes Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, that also purchased a combined 1.2 million square feet from the Jehovah’s Witnesses back in 2013, and now the religious group’s huge volunteer’s dormitory in Brooklyn goes on the market. 107 Columbia Heights, which is connected to other Jehovah’s Witnesses properties by underground tunnels, could fetch another $185 million as the organisation continues its move to Warwick.
Now a similar story is happening in London, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses registered charity that deals with UK property, personnel management, and magazine distribution, the International Bible Students Association, or IBSA, is asking for expressions of interest for 29 properties around Mill Hill in northwest London.
Accounts ending August 2014 value the entire portfolio at £73 million, but the actual sales are expected to bring in funds well in excess of that. The whole sale of everything is projected to be completed by 2021 at the latest, by which time the Jehovah’s Witnesses say it will be fully installed in a purpose-built facility in Chelmsford, Essex. In the meantime, IBSA is keen to point out that its building could be vacated quickly if buyers required.