Hot Non-Profit Real Estate on the Market

Caroline Ballard/ Uptown Radio
Caroline Ballard/ Uptown Radio

HOST INTRO: Last week the American Bible Society announced it’s selling its headquarters, a twelve-story tower near Columbus Circle. It’s looking to unlock the monetary value trapped in its walls. Caroline Ballard has the story.

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The American Bible Society’s glass atrium is Starbucks meets Apple Story meets scripture.

Fade up atrium sound.

There’s a café in the back that serves cappuccinos, lattes and baked goods. Bright couches and tables fill the room; wifi is free.

Flatscreens on the walls play trailers for the new movie Noah.

SATTERWHITE: So in the front here we’ve got four ipads. (0:03)

Arthur Satterwhite is the senior program manager at the mission.

The Ipads with headphones and ebook versions of the bible line the walls.

SATTERWHITE: And on there we have everything from your Youversion Bible App that allows people just to read the bible to children’s games so you can play puzzles around the scriptures or you can play trivia games from the American Bible Challenge which is one of our partners. (0:12)

Satterwhite pulls up the story of David and Goliath on an iPad attached to the chair.

Fade up sound David and Goliath.

SATTERWHITE: Lots of different cool ways people can engage the scriptures. (0:02)

Oh, and on the back wall, is a small display of paper bibles.

The atrium opened in 2013 as the Bible society’s latest effort to bring its mission into the 21st century. But the buildings days selling scriptures are numbered.

Like David, you know, from David and Goliath, the American Bible Society’s modest 12 stories now finds itself among giants. Down the street, the Trump international hotel and tower stands at 44 floors, and the Time Warner Center looms at 55 floors.

This area is real estate gold.

The American Bible Society built the structure at 1865 Broadway in 1966 for a fraction of its current value . Geof Morin, a spokesman, says back then the Society was.

MORIN: Heavily into publishing we were in the midst of launching a new contemporary English translation that became extraordinarily popular called the Good News Bible. And so when we built it it was for a staff of 400. We were building it to fill it up and we did. (0:21)

Now there are about 200 employees.  The rest of the building space is leased to other non-profits.

MORIN: 61st and Broadway is a wonderful location. It’s also got extraordinary, extraordinary market value to release for us to reinvest in a mission for another location for work we do both in New York, for New York, and for folks around the world. (0:14)

As for how much the space will go for?

MORIN: A whole lot would be great. (0:03)

Meaning

MORIN: Around 300 million. (0:01)

300 million dollars.

Jesse Keenan is the Research Director for the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia.

To command that 300 million dollar price tag Keenan says the American Bible Society would have to sell the building to a commercial developer that would raze it to the ground.

KEENAN: Real estate is an easy way to leverage some continuity and cashflows. And so in many ways strategically for many of these organizations they’re sitting on, quite literally, a pot of gold. (0:14)

“Releasing” a building’s monetary value is something many non-profits in New York have been thinking about. Richard Warshauer is the senior managing director at Colliers International, a consulting firm for commercial and residential real estate. He says that The American Bible Society is just one of several non-profits selling its underused real estate assets for hefty cash flow.

WARSHAUER: Another example that’s quite current are the entities that own the United Charities Building, the beautiful Romanesque building on the corner of 22nd street and park avenue south. That building’s now on the market, they’re speaking of 100 million dollar sales price. (0:19)

Since non-profits don’t pay real estate taxes, it makes the potential reward that much greater. The American Bible Society’s building would pay over 6 million dollars a year in property tax, if it weren’t a non-profit.

Losing the building does come with tradeoffs. By forfeiting their location, the American Bible Society will lose some of its visibility. Jesse Keenan says that location has been key to the influence of religious institutions like the society. Think cathedrals in the middle of mediaeval cities.

KEENAN: The centrality of place was very much in a position of authority and power and that was a very deliberate urban intervention. (0:09)

The American Bible Society is looking for a new location in Manhattan, now. They have until summer 2015 to find it.

Caroline Ballard, Columbia Radio News.

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