Jehovah’s Witnesses plan a sale to watch out for

11 June 2016 – by Louisa Clarence-Smith

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is considering a sale of the majority of its UK property portfolio.

Watch Tower

The organisation, which has nearly 8m followers across the world and is undertaking a similar exercise in the US, is asking for expressions of interest for 29 freehold properties around Mill Hill in north London, NW7.

They are formally being marketed by the International Bible Students Association – the registered charity which deals with property, personnel management and magazine distribution for JW in Britain.

The properties are generally located in strong residential areas and interest is expected from residential developers and investors, retirement and care home providers, and hotel companies.

IBSA was not prepared to put a value on the portfolio but its most recent accounts for the year ended 31 August 2014 reported total fixed assets of £73m. However, a sale would be expected to generate proceeds in excess of that figure.

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Primary assets include Watch Tower House, a 103,334 sq ft mixed-use building on an eight-acre plot which includes 175 studio or one-bedroom flats for IBSA staff. The building is used to publish magazines The Watchtower and Awake!, which JW said had a combined distribution of 117m copies a year and were the two most widely distributed magazines in the world.

IBSA House, a 201,285 sq ft building on a five-acre plot which serves as the religious group’s main offices, is also included. The site has planning approval for a further 34,445 sq ft of offices. The phasing of the sale is under review but is expected by 2021 at the latest as the organisation moves to its new purpose-built centre in Chelmsford, Essex. However, IBSA said offices could be quickly vacated if investors requested.

IBSA is in the process of appointing an advisor for the residential sites but will use its own in-house property team to market the bulk of the portfolio, which will be officially launched later this month.

Its US branch has also separately put up for sale three residential blocks in Brooklyn, New York, 11-storey 107 Columbia Heights, 69 Adams, by the Manhattan Bridge, and The Towers at 21 Clark Street, formerly the 1920s era Leverich Towers Hotel, and sold 124 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn. It is moving to Warwick, New York state.

Steve Canning, of IBSA’s London Real Estate Team, said: “We have been contacted by various developers but as a charity we have to go to the market to decide how we can progress.”

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