American Bible Society will depart New York for Center City

Posted: January 29, 2015

The American Bible Society will give up its tony Broadway address for one in Philadelphia's historic district.

The society, which has had its headquarters in New York City for 199 years and has operations all over the world, will relocate to 401 Market St., steps from Independence Mall.

Mayor Nutter will announce the nonprofit's move, which will bring more than 200 jobs to the city, at a news conference Wednesday.

The society's primary mission is to engage more people with the Bible. It also is responsible for a worldwide Christian ministry and has a goal of translating the Bible into every language. So far, it has produced from 750 to 1,000 translations, and it plans to translate into an additional 1,800 of the world's 7,000 languages.

In an interview Tuesday, American Bible Society CEO Roy Peterson said that while it was a "real heart-wrenching decision to leave New York," it was the right decision for his staff.

Living in New York on a nonprofit salary is tough, he said.

"People can afford to live here [in Philadelphia], it's walkable, there's public transportation," Peterson said. "Our staff commutes an hour or two . . . from Long Island, the Bronx."

The ministry offices will lease nearly 100,000 square feet on the eighth and ninth floors of the Market Street building, which is mostly occupied by Wells Fargo. The lease is for 25 years with a 25-year renewal option, Peterson said.

The society has also proposed creating a Bible Discovery Center on the first floor, as well as a conference center, rare Scriptures depository, and library in the building's concourse level.

"Our new Philadelphia headquarters will become the launching pad for Bible ministry in the U.S. and around the world," Peterson said in a statement.

Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said the society's headquarters will be yet another historic presence in the Independence Mall area.

"They are bringing 200 jobs with them," Greenberger said. "Wage tax is our No. 1 revenue generator in the city, so on a very basic level, nonprofits and for-profits are all the same."

The American Bible Society has about 270 employees and about 200 volunteers worldwide, according to a 2012 financial report. That year, the society had a $9 million deficit on a $92 million operating budget. Its total assets, not including its building, are valued at $491 million, according to its 990 filing from 2012.

The ministry expects to be fully moved in this summer, just in time for Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia during September's World Meeting of Families.

The Bible Discovery Center would likely open in 2016, when the society celebrates its bicentennial.

A small staff will remain in New York to continue partnerships with the religious institutions there, Peterson said.

But it won't be at its current location. The society has put up for sale its building, at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street. Last year, it was priced at $300 million.


cvargas@phillynews.com215-854-5520 @InqCVargas

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