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Bridging the gap: Witness HQ revamp could make boondoggle bridge redundant

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ACCESS: A new outdoor stairwell could connect Columbia Heights to Furman Street as part of the revamp of the former Jehovah’s Witnessses’ Headquarters, linking Brooklyn Heights to Dumbo and Brooklyn Bridge Park much the same way the shuttered Squibb Bridge was intended to.
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The walkway would be accessible from this gate between 50 and 58 Columbia Heights.
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The connector was proposed by architects as part of a facelift of the former Jehovah’s Witnesses’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters, which will feature some 635,000 square feet of office space across five buildings.
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The Jehovah’s Witnesses used the campus as their Brooklyn Heights headquarters from 1969 until they sold it in 2016 to a cadre of developers for $340 million, including President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, until he divested himself from the project in 2018.
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The redeveloped five-building office and retail complex that used to house the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses until 2016 will offer prospective tenants blockbuster views of the Brooklyn Bridge waterfront and the distant isle of Manhattan when it opens this fall.
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The revamp of the old religious headquarters will open up the structure which was closed off to the surrounding community and block off Brooklyn Heights from the waterfront, much like the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (seen here below).

A twice-shuttered, multi-million-dollar bridge that’s proven Brooklyn Bridge Park’s biggest boondoggle could become redundant following the redevelopment of a former Jehovah’s Witness complex in Brooklyn Heights.

A developer’s scheme to revamp the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower complex may include an open pathway connecting Columbia Heights and Furman Street when it opens this fall, which would save people from the long walk to Doughty Street needed to reach Brooklyn Bridge Park, and perform the same function that Squibb Bridge was designed for until it closed — for the second time.

The high-concept, $4 million, Ted Zoli-designed span debuted in 2013, only to close the following year due to what attorneys for Brooklyn Bridge Park described as an “inherently flawed” design that became “unstable” and “deformed” in a lawsuit against engineering firm HNTB, who park operators sued to recoup the bridge’s roughly $3 million repair tab.

The bridge reopened in April 2017, only to shutter once again the following year, after park leaders discovered that wood planks used in its construction were decaying due to “higher than expected moisture levels.”

Now, Brooklyn Bridge Park wants to scrap the old bridge and replace it with a second, $6.5 million span that won’t open until summer 2020 — a year after the new Watchtower development is complete.

Multiple requests for comment to Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation went unanswered.

The Jehovah’s Witness complex was made inaccessible to the public by design, according to one of the architects in charge of the revamp, who said that he and his team want to open the group of buildings back up to the community.

“It was really a very inward-facing, kind of an introverted big thing that was more of a barrier to the waterfront than a connector to the neighborho­od,” said Robert Fuller, an architect with Manhattan design firm Gensler.

The walkway would connect Brooklyn Heights to Dumbo and Brooklyn Bridge Park much the same way the shuttered Squibb Bridge was supposed to, which runs from Squibb Park at Columbia Heights, over Furman Street, to Brooklyn Bridge Park in front of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.

However, it remains up to developers Livwrk and CIM Group, as well as potential tenants whether they want to fully extend an existing pathway leading from Furman Street into the complex all the way to Columbia Heights, according to a spokesman Brandon Levesque, who noted that the connector remains a design proposal by the architects.

The Watchtower connector would come as one part of a large-scale renovation of the five interconnected buildings that used to house the religious group’s Brooklyn headquarters until they sold it for $340 million to development firms Livwrk, CIM Group, and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the latter of whom divested himself from the project in 2018.

The sale also included a nearby former Jehovah’s Witnesses parking lot for an additional $345 million, which the developers are turning into a 21-story two-tower condo complex with an expansive gated garden at Front and York streets.

The new mixed-use complex will include 635,000 square feet of office space — about 11 football fields — along with 17 terraces and balconies with expansive views of the Brooklyn waterfront and the distant isle of Manhattan.

Additionally, about 35,000 square feet of ground-floor space will be set aside for retail, with another 15,000 square feet reserved for hotel space at 58 Columbia Heights, according to Carroll.

The fate of one of the building’s most recognizable features, the iconic “Watchtower” sign atop 30 Columbia Heights still hangs in the balance.

Workers tore down the original sign in late 2017 and the developers have yet to decide what they will replace it with, or whether they plan to keep the still-standing temperature and time reader on top of it.

“This is still a work in progress. Once we have something definitive regarding the sign, we will share that with the public,” said Levesque.

The city ruled in November 2018 the owners can put their own branding on the sign and a rendering on the project’s website shows “Panorama” in red lettering with the clock still intact.

The three brick and timber buildings at 50 and 58 Columbia Heights, and 55 Furman Street date back to the 1870s.

Pharmaceutical company Squibb Pharmaceutical erected 25 and 30 Columbia Heights in the 1920s and occupied those spaces until the Jehovah’s Witnesses moved in 1969 and expanded the buildings several times until they sold them to the cadre of developers ahead of a move upstate in 2016.

Correction: This article previously stated that the developer’s walkway plans were a done deal based on information provided by architects, which was inaccurate. It has been changed to reflect that the connector remains a design proposal pending final approval from the developers and future tenants.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 4:51 pm, August 23, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

KGJ says:
"A twice-shuttered, multi-million-dollar bridge that’s proven Brooklyn Bridge Park’s biggest boondoggle will become redundant following the redevelopment of a former Jehovah’s Witness complex...." Maybe, maybe not. The park bridge will put you on the far side of Furman Street. The staircase drops people into traffic.
Aug. 23, 10:23 am
Gargoyle from Newkirk Plaza says:
The pedestrian entrances to Brooklyn Bridge Park are either obstacles courses or desolate.
Aug. 23, 11:13 pm
ujh from Westchester County says:
In response to KGJ: A bridge over Furman Street will most likely be part of the negotiations. Park visitors ending up at street level won't "fly" as this would require an additional stop light in close proximity to the existing one at the corner of Furman/Cadman Plaza West. I speculate that the Squibb Park bridge wasn't shut down due to construction flaws and wood corrosion. The real reason for the demise of that bridge can plausibly be attributed to objections from financially powerful and therefore influential residents of the luxury apartments on either side of the Squibb Park bridge, who don't want unexpected hordes of park visitors pass by their windows all year long. The bridge may be removed, with Squibb Park continuing as a playground for PS 8 close-by. The school's expansion has reduced open space considerably.
Aug. 24, 10:45 am
Claude Scales from Brooklyn Heights says:
I enlarged the Google Map that's used to show the purported route someone could take to get from Columbia Heights to the Park. For starters, the outlines of the Pier House/Hotel 1 complex buildings on the map don't correspond to their real footprint. Second, the map places the Hotel, and something called the "TerrazaHotel 1" far south of the actual location of the Hotel. In reality, someone who took the stairs down to Fulton Street would be first, forced to cross a busy street (which, as another commenter noted, would necessitate a new traffic light) and second, be facing a residential structure that would require a long walk either north to where the Squibb Bridge now crosses Furman, or south to the intersection of Furman and Doughty, to get to the Park.
Aug. 24, 3:15 pm
Claude Scales from Brooklyn Heights. says:
In my comment above, in the next to last line please substitute "south" for "north" and vice versa. Apologies for my directional confusion. I stand by the rest of what I wrote.
Aug. 24, 6:08 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Unless they are using something really expensive such as teak for the planks, I can't see how this pedestrian bridge is such a boondoggle.
Aug. 25, 6:14 am
Park lover from Brooklyn Heights says:
Most people find it quite ironic that the writer "ujh", none other than Ursula Hahn, above, was one of the biggest cheerleaders for housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park. But now she decries attempts to connect the Heights with the park over the assumed protestations of park dwellers. What hypocrisy but it is the story of Brooklyn Bridge Park. And all those big housing-in-park supporters like Ursula, are where today? Oh right, dead or living outside of Bklyn having done their misdeeds they can RIP to let the rest of us clean up their mess. Hypocrisy reigns supreme.
Sept. 3, 9:56 am

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