The American Bible Society will sell its 12-story building on Broadway, vacating prime real estate in the heart of Manhattan that served a host of evangelical ministries. Photo courtesy DeMoss Group

The American Bible Society will sell its 12-story building on Broadway, vacating prime real estate in the heart of Manhattan that also served a host of evangelical ministries. Photo courtesy of American Bible Society


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

NEW YORK (RNS) The American Bible Society will sell its 12-story building on Broadway, vacating prime real estate in the heart of Manhattan that serves other evangelical ministries.

The society provides space to several New York-based evangelical organizations, such as Q Ideas, Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work, the Museum of Biblical Art and Young Life. Through the years, the building had become a destination for Christians in the city.

The 200-year-old ABS first occupied the 1865 Broadway address in 1966 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Billy Graham. The organization has not made any decisions about a new location, but a spokesperson said it remained committed to New York City.

The decision to sell the property was made to unlock the value of the site to further the mission of American Bible Society,” board Chairman Pieter Dearolf said in a statement. “I believe we will always maintain a presence in New York City, the epicenter of American culture and commerce.”

ABS was last in the spotlight in January, when it named Roy Peterson to succeed Doug Birdsall as president. Birdsall was fired by the ABS board in October after only months on the job. The former director expressed surprise when he was told that ABS was selling the building.

“It’s the best Christian real estate in the country, some of the best Christian real estate in the world,” Birdsall said. “It may add to the financial assets, but it doesn’t necessarily expand the significance of the ministry.”

Doug Birdsall, who was fired as president of the American Bible Society. Photo courtesy Doug Birdsall

Doug Birdsall, who was fired as president of the American Bible Society. Photo courtesy of Doug Birdsall


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Birdsall pointed to other historic ministries that have waxed and waned in importance based on their location. For instance, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has declined since it moved from Manhattan to Louisville, Ky. After the Salvation Army tore down its London building and built a new one, it was able to create a self-sustaining international headquarters, by renting out part of the building, he said.

“Many ministries have left major cities for lower cost in other areas but often at the expense of ministry impact,” Birdsall said.

Birdsall estimated that ABS occupied about 40 percent of the building and rented out the rest to other organizations. The land, he said, is likely worth around $300 million. “The base of the building could itself be a gold mine given the astronomical level of retail rents in the area,” reports Cranes New York Business.

Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate firm with a mission to “help clients turn fixed assets into dynamic assets,” will help the organization sell the property and select a new site.  “Their number one criteria is not to find other Christians (to buy) but to release that space for assets,” said ABS spokesman Geof Morin.

ABS also has about 80 people in its offices outside of Philadelphia, about the same number of employees in its New York headquarters, Morin said. He said that the organization faces updates in code requirements costing tens of millions of dollars within the next 18 months and plans to sell the building in the next 14 to 15 months.

“We know and we’re honest about how it’s expensive to be in New York City. We have no intention of abandoning it,” said Morin, suggesting that the organization is determining whether to buy, lease or rent property. “Where we put our core operations has not been determined.”

Before Birdsall was fired, he had proposed replacing the existing building with a 30-story structure that could include an Omni Hotel and space for other ministries to rent. He said the Hobby Lobby-founding Green family was interested in getting involved in a Bible exhibition.

ABS has been losing money in the last several years; its assets of $693 million in 2007 fell to $389 million in 2012. From 2002 through 2011 ABS overspent its budget by $250 million, World magazine reported.

As Birdsall moved forward with plans for a new building, the board thought the staff had a lack of transparency during the process, creating tensions and misunderstandings, he said. Other evangelical leaders stood by Birdsall after his firing.

“The vision requires a certain amount of risk,” Birdsall said, given how expensive it is to own a building in New York.

The building’s greatest asset was its location, close to Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center and Central Park, said Gregory Thornbury, president of The King’s College.  “That is one of the most enviable plots of real estate on the island of Manhattan,” he said.

King’s, the only Christian residential liberal arts college in an urban center, recently moved, relocating from the Empire State Building to lower Manhattan next to Wall Street.

“Evangelical institutions have abandoned the cities,” Thornbury said. “New York is the seat of power on planet Earth, so it takes a constant vigilance and focus and determination to stay in the game.”

YS/MG END BAILEY

22 Comments

  1. “ABS has been losing money in the last several years; its assets of $693 million in 2007 fell to $389 million in 2012.”

    Wonderful news. The fall coincides with the expansion of the internet. The Bible is free on the internet as are the ‘teachings’ within. Priests, nuns and churches are expensive incidentals.

    Jesus and Yahweh are just fading, dusty legends
    which are taking their places alongside Zeus, Osiris and Gilgamesh.

    • Here, the Gospel is fading but in China, the Church is growing exponentially every day. Under the yoke of your religion of Atheism even. Yes, yes, yes, Atheism IS a religion wail and gnash your teeth as you may. There’s more Presbyterians in China then there are in the United States.
      The grass withers, the flower fades,
      but the word of our God will stand forever.
      (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)

      • No, no, no…atheism is NOT a religion. It’s a simple stance to say “not so” to the theistic truth claims. You, obviously a Christian, are also an atheist in regards to Islamic or Hindu theism because you don’t believe in it. But you wouldn’t say, “not believing Allah is my religion!” Atheists don’t believe in ALL theism, including yours. That’s all. Your statement is nonsensical…just because I don’t want to buy your product does not mean that I want to sell you my product.

        • Atheism is no more a religion than Theism. Not all theists are religious, most are. Not all atheists are religious, most are not. There is plenty of crossover though.

          People who continue to distinguish atheism (a philosophical stance) in itself to be a religion are not thinking too hard about what they are saying.

          • Disgree. Merriam-Webster defines:”Religion – the belief in a god or in a group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” Atheism is precisely not that. If you believe in a god or gods, you a theist; if you don’t, you are an atheist. It’s really that simple. Any theist who calls atheism a religion doesn’t know the definition of the religion.

          • @jade63
            mar·riage
            ˈmarij/
            noun
            1.
            the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.

            I don’t know your stance on marriage, but I’m guessing you learn with the marriage equality side of things. As you can see, definitions can be quite debilitating can’t they?

            Also, back to your first post, I used to just blindly accept the argument that everyone is an atheist to another religion, but that’s pretty incoherent now that I think about it. Not believing in a different god doesn’t make you atheist in any form if you still believe in another. Not to mention the Islamic god is the same as the Christian.

      • Calling Atheism a religion is like
        picking up a stack of blank paper and calling it a novel.

        Ridiculous.

        Atheist = “There appears to be no God, let’s deal with that”
        Religion = “I KNOW There IS a God, and I KNOW WHAT HE wants me to DO!”

        • What is the logic that follows from that comparison.

          You do know the difference between Theism and Religion correct? So why pit Atheism vs Religion, rather than Atheism’s actual counter; Theism? But say I wanted to play this game:

          Atheism=”I KNOW there is NO GOD, so I’ll do whatever I want!”
          Theism=”There appears to be a god, but I won’t assume it’s this one or that one.”

          See? You can choose to frame the issue in whatever way you want. No matter how badly you want it to be a simple “us vs. them” scenario, it will never be that easy.

          • @Hi Patrick,

            Playing word games won’t make your God claim true. Nor will it force your god into existence.

            I am not sure whether a God exists, but I see no reason to believe in one and so I do not believe one exists.
            I’m an Atheist – I do NOT claim God is impossible. I just don’t believe. It is my opinion that God does not exist. Not a claim.

            If you want to alter what I said into some word game… have fun.

            I only care about what the truth is. And if you can’t demonstrate why your claim is true you are just a pretender.

          • @ Max,
            I never said I believed in a god. I was just pointing out there are different variations of the same label by playing that game, not an indictment on your belief (or lack thereof). I entirely understand your view.

      • AsianTraveller

        Buildings and words of man may fall down but …The Word of God is powerful and it has life in it.

        God exists and He gives life… and is the source of Life and Light in the whole unverse. So, let’s praise and worship God…

        DON’T USE THE NAMES OF GOD IN VAIN…

      • The Gospel will never fade!! Believers have to be more assertive champions of the gospel and not hide or deny it’s truth.
        I personally believe it is a huge mistake to sell such priceless real estate in NYC . And I don’t believe
        ABS will be able to maintain a descent profile without that property. That building is more like a museum with all the biblical artifacts and exhibits. Every time I pass that building I get a very proud feeling knowing people are at minimum confronted with the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is very difficult to pass that beautiful edifice without stopping to look or even pose with the statute outside, especially for tourist. I hope those in authority will fast and pray more, and search their creativity to find another solution and not sell the building.

  2. Goodness! More funds to pay the high salaries and the high rollers! More money to waste. When they were done spending and almost down to the bottom of the jar, they are selling the buildong “to further the ministry”. Hogwash! I wonder what progress has been made since this article was written, and many others like it. Would like to see a financial review of this organization

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2002/1209/182.html

    • My husband is a employee of ABS, and I don’t know who is getting these high salaries you speak of. Certainly not anybody we know.

      The decision to sell the Manhattan property is one in the interests of the long term financial health of the organization. Dr. Peterson orchestrated a similar move when he was at Wycliffe, relocating their HQ from Huntingon Beach, CA to Orlando, FL. As far as I can tell he is acting in good faith and practicing responsible stewardship of the organization’s resources.

      Why was the primary person quoted in this article someone who isn’t even employed by ABS? Dr. Birdsall clearly has a difference of vision from the leadership at ABS, hence his departure. Why not get quotes from someone who can explain the reasoning for the decision? Were they not returning phone calls?

    • If you would like to see a financial review, go to their website. The organization posts years of audited financial statements and tax returns. But then you would have to exert effort and perhaps it is easier to post nonsense.

      The organization used a substantial amount of funds in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s to open up new Bible Societies in Eastern Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While the markets fell, it stayed true to the pledge it made. Any time an organization wants to donate funds to help provide the Word of God in a hostile section of the globe or one that does not have access, that is not “waste”. If you would review the audited information posted, you would see that they are hardly down to the “bottom of the jar”. You are always free to disagree with an organization that provides the Word of God but I encourage you to look at its website to understand better what it does, then if you still disagree, you can do so with a better understanding. Presently the organization is doing a lot of work globally, including America, the Middle East, China and Africa. It has developed a trauma based healing program, grounded in Scripture, for the men, women and children who are being raped, beaten and tortured, or who have to watch their families and fellow villagers killed by the terrorists in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. It is sending staff there to train the local Bible Society staff and the local pastors and lay workers on how to try to help people who are severely abused. I would not call that “waste”. You are free to disagree that the Word of God brings light. You should however do so with integrity grounded in better understanding of the facts. Thank you for your post.

      “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” 2 Timothy 4:3 ESV

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