Sunday, February 07, 2016

Selective outrage: Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's call for payment from Witnesses not matched by pressure on its members

Crain's New York Business on 2/4/15 published Jehovah's Witnesses saved $368 million in real estate taxes over the past 12 years, subheaded "Downtown Brooklyn Partnership [DBP] ups its pressure on the tax-exempt organization to donate $50 million."

From the article:
The study looked at the Witnesses’ Brooklyn portfolio of 37 properties concentrated in and around Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo. As a religious organization, the group is exempt from paying taxes. The analysis estimated that its property taxes would have totaled $138.6 million since 2006, while transfer and capital gains taxes for 21 of its sites sold since 2004 would have added up to about $230 million. Reed called that a conservative estimate, but said it shows the magnitude of the Witnesses' profits and the money that otherwise would have gone to taxpayers.
The DBP certainly has an argument.Generally speaking, tax exemptions for religious and other institutions deserve questions. More specifically, the Jehovah's Witnesses, as this article notes, got a rezoning at 85 Jay Street but never built there--and that rezoning upped the value of the property to perhaps $1 billion.

What's missing

That said, it's more than a little hypocritical for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (significantly influenced by Forest City Ratner, its board co-chaired by FCR CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin) to be so selective in its outrage. Consider benefits for its members:
  • the lack of affordability requirements coupled with the rezoning that increased the value of Downtown Brooklyn real estate
  • the DBP's call for continued tax exemptions to fuel office space in Downtown Brooklyn
  • the DBP's silence on the (apparent) giveaway of public streets to the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project
  • the DPB's silence regarding the (nonbinding) pledge to require a second sports tenant at the Barclays Center (now, the Islanders) to make payments to New York State

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