Denominations drop urban headquarters as needs, economy change - New York News

Denominations drop urban headquarters as needs, economy change

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By: Mark A. Kellner, Deseret News

After 128 years atop Boston's Beacon Hill, the Unitarian Universalist Association is selling its headquarters for a reported tens of millions of dollars, and relocating to a gritty loft space in Boston's startup-friendly "innovation district."

A chief reason, The New York Times reports, is financial: the group says it would cost too much to renovate the existing buildings. Though membership in the faith, formed in the 1961 merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, is "stable," leaders want to eschew the suggested "elitism" of a location next to the Massachusetts Statehouse.

"Denominational officials, who now cherish the golden light of the sunset reflected off the Statehouse dome, will instead look out at a parking garage," Times reporter Michael Paulson wrote. "And visitors, accustomed to staying in colonial brownstones, will now be offered discounted rooms at a Club Quarters (hotel)."

Similar thoughts can be expressed about the American Baptist Churches USA's headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa., a town outside of Philadelphia that now hosts a casino across the street from the ABC offices. Church officials last fall launched "a (three-year) study that will deliver a recommendation regarding the future location of the American Baptist Mission Center and disposition of the King of Prussia property."

The ABC-USA announcement added, "The current office space is over 50 years old and no longer meets the needs of its American Baptist occupants. Council members agreed that retention of current staff is a high priority, so a local site is important."

The Christian Science Church's global headquarters, in the heart of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, is also dealing with real estate changes, as it has for a number of years. When The Christian Science Monitor daily newspaper went to a weekly print edition and constant Internet presence, much space in the group's publishing center was apparently freed up for other purposes.

Ingrid Peschke, a spokeswoman for the Christian Science Plaza renovation project, said that officials discovered there "just wasn't a need" for the "iconic" 26-story office tower at 177 Huntington Ave. that formerly held administrative offices for The First Church of Christ, Scientist, as the movement's organization is formally known. The building, designed by noted architects I.M. Pei & Partners and Araldo A. Cossutta, Associated Architects, opened in 1972.

Relocating offices, Peschke said, would be "more efficient and more energy efficient" for the organization, which has since leased the tower to realty firm HFF for a 99-year term. The group continues work on revitalizing its headquarters complex, she said, in order to meet changing needs.

Another prominent organization involved in a real estate shift is the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are moving their global offices in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., some 58 miles northwest to the town of Warwick. Although headquartered in Brooklyn for more than a century, and having constructed the five-building headquarters complex more than 77 years ago, the urban location was no longer needed.

"In terms of Bible education and the Bible messages, these buildings were quite significant to Jehovah's Witnesses," spokesman David A. Semonian said in a video explaining the move. In an accompanying news release, Richard Devine, chairman of the group's construction project committee, said: "Moving our headquarters to Warwick (New York) is simply the best use of our resources, enabling us to further expand our global Bible education work."

More mainstream organizations are also dealing with real estate issues: the Episcopal Church's New York headquarters has, via its Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, leased out several floors in its mid-Manhattan Church Center to various businesses and organizations.

Several Roman Catholic dioceses are either selling or have sold their chanceries and other properties in recent years. In some cases, as The New York Times reports, it is to raise money to pay settlements in sexual abuse cases; in others, as in the case of the Archdiocese of Detroit, the 2013 $3.25 million sale of its chancery would promote administrative unity.

"This move will bring us figuratively and literally closer together," Archbishop (Allen H.) Vigneron said in a news release.


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Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.

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