Some 60 years after the first papers rolled off its presses, the Tampa Bay Times has sold its shuttered St. Petersburg printing plant for $21 million.
The buyer of the 27-acre property at 1301 N 34th St. is the real estate arm of Alden Global Capital, a name familiar to those who follow the newspaper industry.
The Times hasn’t used the property in six months, having dismantled the printing presses and transferred operations to Lakeland to produce the Sunday and Wednesday print editions of the newspaper.
Alden, the New York hedge fund, has a track record of buying, then slashing costs at, newspapers around the country, including the Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Denver Post. Its real estate subsidiary buys excess property from newspapers.
Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash said the deal between Times Publishing Co. and Alden’s real estate arm, Twenty Lake Holdings, was just about the land.
“This is a real estate deal, not a newspaper deal,” Tash said. “We had offers from any number of potential buyers, and we treated this one from Twenty Lake Holdings just as we did every other buyer and every other bidder. Their offer was best.”
The Times will lease back part of the land for use as a distribution center while Alden develops the rest for “non-newspaper purposes,” said Times Publishing Co. president Conan Gallaty.
The final price is “actually very strong considering where we thought we might land,” Gallaty said. “This falls well within — and probably on the high end of — what a number of brokers thought we could get for it.”
Gallaty said the majority of the proceeds will pay off what remains of a $15 million loan to the Times Publishing Co. from FBN Partners, a group of local investors that includes Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, veterinary entrepreneur and Ybor City investor Darryl Shaw, philanthropists Kiran Patel and Frank Morsani, and Tash himself.
Most of the rest will go to the Times’ pension fund, which this summer placed a $30.5 million lien against Times Publishing Co. and the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns it.
In all, Gallaty said, the deal eliminates about 75 percent of the company’s debt.
“This is the best result for the Tampa Bay Times,” Tash said, “and that’s ultimately what matters to our constituencies, including our readers, our advertisers and our staff.”
Gallaty acknowledged that dealing with an Alden-controlled company might raise eyebrows within the newspaper industry. But he said the Times and Alden have no other dealings planned.
“The ability to apply these proceeds to good uses for us helps keep us independent and locally owned,” Gallaty said.