GREENSBORO — Faced with dwindling print circulation and moving toward 24-hour digital publication, newspapers have become multimedia companies with smaller staffs and operations centers.
Online news and shorter press runs mean news companies aren’t bound by their massive printing plants and high-profile headquarters that once dominated city centers across the nation. The chance to raise cash and eliminate overhead means many of those news companies are selling their properties.
The News & Record’s parent company, BH Media, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, joined the trend in September, when it announced it will sell the newspaper’s 6.7-acre office and press complex on East Market Street, between Davie and Church streets, in the heart of downtown.
In late September the daily printing of the News & Record was consolidated at the newly expanded BH Media Print Facility in Winston-Salem.
The sale of the company’s downtown property could be a boon to developers and the city’s prospects for growth, not to mention the windfall it likely will mean for BH Media.
“Getting a cash infusion like that is very helpful to papers for investment and reinvestment, which is not so easy to come by with profitability,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst and the leader of news transformation at the nonprofit Poynter Institute, one of the nation’s leading journalism education organizations. “It’s kind of a win-win for the newspaper and the city.”
City and business leaders say the land could be a prime spot for anything from apartments to a skyscraper. Given what developers are doing in other cities, they’ve got plenty of ideas to contemplate.
“These opportunities seldom come around,” said Zack Matheny, the president and chief executive officer of Downtown Greensboro Inc., the city’s downtown economic development agency.
In Charlotte, a city with an already impressive skyline, a developer is building a 33-story building on The Charlotte Observer’s former site in the heart of downtown.
The Chicago Tribune sold its famed Tribune Tower in 2016 to a company that will build a $240 million mixed-use development.
The Boston Globe signed a deal in August to sell its 16.5-acre former headquarters to a developer.
In Miami, the Herald sold its former movie-set site on Biscayne Bay to a resort developer.
And there are many more such examples, as newspaper owners provide a boon to developers and investors. For cities such as Greensboro that are looking to rebrand and revitalize their downtowns, this can be an unexpected gift.
“It’s not often that a piece of that size becomes available, so I think it’s very important that whatever goes down there will really enhance the downtown community,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “We need something that’s really going to make a statement.”
The property already has played a role in one big growth boom for Greensboro, during the 1920s.
The News & Record, which traces its roots to 1890, has operated at its 200 E. Market St. site since 1976. From the early 1920s until 1976, the newspaper, first the Greensboro Daily News, was two blocks away at Davie Street and Friendly Avenue in what is now the Cultural Arts Center.
A bit of background
Fifty years before the newspaper moved to Market Street, the King Cotton Hotel held court as one of the region’s largest and most opulent hotels. It opened in early 1927, held 225 rooms and cost $1.3 million.
It was surrounded by some of the city’s landmark properties. Just four years earlier, the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co. had completed construction of its headquarters at Market and Elm streets. It was the largest and tallest office building in the South, according to News & Record research, with 23 carloads of marble brought in to line the corridors of the $2.5 million tower.
The year King Cotton opened, the city also opened its War Memorial Stadium for minor league baseball and the Carolina Theatre. The theater still thrives with concerts and classic films, and N.C. A&T plays baseball in the stadium.
Greensboro’s growing railroad industry was about to have a little competition from the newly opened airport, the first major commercial airport in North Carolina.
The King Cotton Hotel had faded by the 1960s, and the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission bought the property. In 1971 the hotel was razed by implosion and more history was revealed: Someone found an old bayonet buried in the rubble, possibly left there since before the Civil War, when it was the site of an inn. Five years later, the newspaper moved into a state-of-the-art headquarters and press complex.
The News & Record itself is the product of two local papers more than a century old. The Greensboro Daily News and The Greensboro Daily Record were separate companies until the News bought the Record in 1930. In 1965, Landmark Communications of Norfolk, Va., bought the two papers, and in March 1984 they were merged into one morning publication, the Greensboro News & Record. BH Media bought the newspaper in 2013.
The company’s owners say that after the current building is sold, its news and advertising staff will move into a new space in or near downtown.
The newspaper’s site and the 3.5 acres next to the property on Church and Washington streets, which is owned by Commonwealth Building Co., a part of former owner Landmark, could be combined for a roughly 10-acre development spanning a prime city parcel between East Market and Washington streets.
The blocks includes plenty of road access thanks to Hughes Street, which divides the properties from east to west and equal to the three blocks between North Greene and North Elm streets that include both Lincoln Financial towers, the Center Pointe office and condo tower and the Greensboro Marriott Downtown hotel with its adjoining parking deck.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of development is underway or in the pipeline in the northern end of downtown, and Matheny said this is a unique opportunity to put a real estate centerpiece a block from Elm Street, downtown’s backbone.
“We don’t have another site in downtown Greensboro with one or two owners that could be 6 1/2 to almost 10 acres,” Matheny said.
Greensboro has several developers with pockets deep enough to buy and build on the News & Record’s site.
The 6.7 acres is valued on Guilford County tax rolls at $9.9 million, and the company is asking $10.9 million for the property.
Other sites that once held older buildings in underdeveloped parts of downtown are now attracting tens of millions in development projects valued at tens of millions of dollars.
A public-private partnership between the city of Greensboro and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro is building the $78.1 million Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts on 5.5 acres at North Elm and Bellemeade streets.
Two blocks away, Greensboro developer Roy Carroll is building the $70 million Carroll at Bellemeade, an apartment and hotel project on 4.5 acres.
And the city plans to build an eight-story parking deck on Bellemeade, near the downtown baseball stadium that’s home to the Greensboro Grasshoppers. This 1,050-space deck would provide the foundation for a 15- to 20-story mixed-use building that city officials say Carroll is planning.
Another office building is under construction across the street, hard against the ballpark.
But properties farther south, closer to the heart of downtown, haven’t sparked many projects, though developers reportedly are planning a Westin Hotel on South Elm Street near February One Place
Carroll has been talking for a couple of years about a 561-foot skyscraper he would like to build downtown. And although he is currently juggling more than $1 billion worth of developments throughout the Southeast, including a new hotel project at a proposed ballpark in downtown High Point, Carroll said the News & Record’s site would be ideal for just about anything.
“That size property in a downtown area has potential to create its own synergy,” he said.
Dateline: Main Street
Whether it’s a small-town outfit or a big-time daily, many newspapers are situated in the heart of the communities they serve. That in itself makes their sites catalysts for revitalization.
In Greenville, S.C., for instance, a developer has taken 4 acres on Main Street once owned by The Greenville News and is building what it calls the Camperdown project, named after the city’s once-flourishing Camperdown Mill.
In addition to a new building for the newspaper, this mixed-use development will be transformative for the city, adding a 140-room hotel and 217 apartments.
By Richard M. Barron
Published October 7, 2017
From the Greensboro News and Record: