Saturday, June 27, 2015

The American Bible Society Ends Its 199-Year Run in New York City

My sources inside 1865 Broadway tell me that today was the last day of work at the New York headquarters of the American Bible Society.  The ABS website still says that the Society is located on 1865 Broadway, but I am sure that will change very soon.  In January the ABS announced that it would be moving this summer to the Wells Fargo Building on 401 Market Street in Philadelphia.

The ABS has ended its 199-run year in New York.  The move is taking place with no fanfare.  No one is acknowledging the fact that one of New York's oldest institutions has just left the city.

Ironically, the move out of New York comes at a time when evangelical Christians seem to be increasingly more invested in the city.  Christianity Today, the flagship publication for American evangelicals, has been collecting all kinds of stories about evangelical activities in New York.  Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church is booming. New York City even has its own evangelical college--The Kings College. From what I have heard it is really growing.

Back in 2013 there was an attempt to take advantage of this evangelical resurgence.  According to a report from World magazine, ABS President at the time, Doug Birdsall, proposed a $300 million
"center for Manhattan's growing evangelical church."  Keller was behind it.  So was popular evangelical writer Eric Metaxas.  The plan was to replace the existing building with a 30-story one that would include an Omni Hotel.  It would be funded by Dallas billionaire Bob Rowling, the owner of Omni.  But when Birdsall began to have disagreements with the ABS Board of Trustees he was fired.  According to World, he was apparently giving the Board grades (A, B, and C) based on their ability to lead the organization.

So why has the ABS left?  The American Bible Society, until very recently, occupied a place in the heart of New York City. It was steps from the Time Warner Center and Lincoln Center.

Sadly, the decision was an economic one.  1865 Broadway is in bad shape. It needs millions of dollars of improvements in order to get it up to code.  Moreover, the ABS owned 37-stories of airspace above the building.  This is prime New York City real estate. When Birdsall was fired--he was dumped before he was officially inaugurated as President--the plans to get the building up to code were eventually abandoned.

The ABS sold the building for $300 million. I am guessing this means that whatever financial difficulties it has developed over the years have now gone away.

But why leave New York?  You will need to read my forthcoming book on the history of the American Bible Society to find out.

In order to remember the ABS in New York I am going to do a few posts about some of the places in the city where the Society was housed over the years.  Stay tuned.  We will start on Monday with 72 Nassau Street.