It’s a trend: Newspaper buildings are worth selling

Digital First Media CEO John Paton pronounced about a year ago that newspaper content “has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero.” Newspaper buildings, though, are still apparently worth something.

On Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported that its ownership is considering selling two blocks of buildings including its former headquarters. The Des Moines Register, headquartered since 1918 in a building downtown, is looking around for a new home. And the city of Vancouver is putting the former headquarters of The Province on the market to help pay down debt from its Olympic Village development.

There are plenty of reasons to leave an old building: Maybe your staff is one-third its old size, or the building’s ill-configured for a modern newsroom, or your company’s suffering crushing debt and no one knows how they’ll fund pensions. There are plenty of reasons to stay, too, but they rarely sway owners.

“There’s still some benefit to a traditional place of some prominence,” says Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, “and to continuity with a past that’s maybe more glorious than the present.” Generally, though, he says, the buildings are “not worth spending way more money than you can really afford right now.”

Herewith, some recent examples of newspaper buildings changing hands:

Dec. 2011: The Athens (Ga.)  Banner-Herald’s magnificent Greek Revival building was sold to Lulscal, a Colorado company whose name sounds eerily, and perhaps a little insultingly given the circumstances, like an Internet meme.

May 2011: The Miami Herald building, or, more accurately, the land under the Miami Herald building, was sold for $236 million to Genting Malaysia Berhad, which plans to build a great honking casino there. The Dade Heritage Trust later applies for the Herald building to get landmark status (Florida has history?), which would force Genting to incorporate the Herald facade into its design. Anti-gambling forces take note: There would never be a more effective memento mori for gamblers than a newspaper building!

Feb. 2011: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram building was sold to Bob Simpson, part owner of the Texas Rangers. He said at the time that he had no plans for it but later decided to put an oil and gas company there. The Star-Telegram eventually moved to another building downtown, across the street from its original location.

Nov. 2010: Cox Enterprises  gave the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s headquarters away after moving the newsroom to the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody.

March 2010: The Portland Press Herald building was sold by owner MaineTodayMedia to developer John Cacoulidis. Cacoulidis expressed a desire to replace the edifice, which sports a subterranean tunnel connecting it to its former printing press,  with a “really classy building.”

Correction: This post originally referred to Cox Enterprises as Cox Communications.

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