11/02/18 -- The Watchtower Stands Tall


The Watchtower Stands Tall
By Tina Friedman

November 2, 2018

The NYPD is coming back and New Yorkers will soon see the first hints of a new, revitalized post-war NYPD complex at what was once the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters.

The NYPD Safe Zone police force's new headquarters will share the name of its historic structure: the Watchtower. The site is the name for a five-building complex purchased for $340 million in 2011 by the Deveaux Society just prior to the New York riots. The Deveaux Society donated the building to the city of New York in 2014 and plans began to be drawn for its refurbishing almost immediately.

The city of New York is spending $187 million more to renovate, modernize, and recast the properties for exclusive use as police headquarters — replacing the destroyed 1 Police Plaza in the Manhattan Exclusion Zone.

"The decision to keep the name Watchtower is a symbolic one," said incoming police commissioner Marcus Donovan. "While we're not associated with the former occupants, the name Watchtower evokes a sense of security and protection that I think the people of New York desperately need. We want the post-war NYPD to be something people trust, something people can look up to, and something that can put decades of racial profiling and corruption behind it."

The largest buildings on the two-acre campus, 25 and 30 Columbia Heights, connected by a sky bridge, will have about 600,000 square feet of office space between them. No. 30 is to have 23,000 square feet and No. 25, a mere 1,000.

The smaller Nos. 50 and 58 Columbia Heights and 55 Furman St. will have a total of 63,000 square feet of offices and 10,000 square feet of warehouse space.

The Watchtower overlooks the river, standing in both the shadow of the destroyed Brooklyn Bridge and in plain view of the walled-off Manhattan Exclusion Zone, but also nearly adjacent to the Deveaux Society's Clocktower Building and just a short drive to the Safe Zone Municipal Building. The Watchtower buildings are not landmarked and could have been demolished — but city planners saw the potential to build off of the bones of history, rather than something without a touchstone to the old New York.

The Jehovah's Witnesses kept the buildings in excellent shape during their ownership and more modern inside than many knew. “The bones are spectacular,” Stacy Miller, an city planning architect for the Safe Zone, said. “Reinforced concrete floors. The slab-to-slab height is 11.6 feet with up to 18 feet in some of the suites."

“There are massive windows all around. Column spacing of around 20 feet creates tremendous efficiencies,” Miller said. “We have nice, chunky floor plates from 20,000 to 38,000 square feet. Many have outdoor terraces.” Good fiber-optic infrastructure was already in place and, “We’re enhancing it with help from Yamagato Industries. The NYPD will have a direct line to the internet nodes in Yamagato Park.”

"As for the sign," Donovan added, "why would we remove it? Yeah, there'll be signage indicating the building as NYPD Headquarters, but that big neon Watchtower? No, we want to keep that. We want it to be a beacon. Things can get better… will get better. We just have to work together to make it that way."

The NYPD are scheduled to return to active duty in the summer of 2019 accompanying a gradual phasing out of the 91st Military Police Battalion.

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