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  1. Business

Pension agency places liens on Times Publishing properties

ST. PETERSBURG — The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has placed liens on all property owned by Times Publishing Co. and its parent organization, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, for failing to make required contributions to their pension plan.

The liens are for $30,476,992 — the difference between the pension plan's current assets and the calculation of all future benefits. The liens were recorded last week in Pinellas County official records.

"As we have previously acknowledged, the Times received approval to delay some of its contributions to the pension plan during the economic recession and recovery," said Jana Jones, vice president and CFO of Times Publishing, which publishes the Tampa Bay Times. "Related to these approvals, the Times agreed to provide collateral to the PBGC. These liens are part of this process."

Jones said the Times is about $10 million behind in its contributions, reiterating that the liens reflect total obligations in coming years. The Times' pension plan covers approximately 3,400 current and former staffers of the Times and its business magazine, Florida Trend. She said those participants should have "no reason for alarm" about their benefit payments.

"The assets in the Times plan exceed $100 million — considerably higher than the balance when the Times first received permission to delay contributions," Jones said. "Meanwhile, we continued to have constructive conversations with the PBGC about an orderly payment plan."

The PBGC is a federal agency created in 1974 to protect pension benefits in private-sector defined benefit plans like that of Times Publishing. The agency's financing comes from various sources, including insurance premiums paid by companies whose plans it protects. The plan is insured even if the employer fails to pay the required premiums.

Like most other U.S. newspapers, the Times has faced financial challenges because of the Great Recession, a drop in print advertising and greater competition from the Internet and digital media. The company took out a $28 million loan in 2013 — which it has since paid down to $24 million — and has sold some of the real estate it owns.

The Times' headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg is currently on the market. Jones said it is unlikely the liens would affect the sale of the headquarters building.

The Miami Herald and other newspapers also have sold their headquarters. The Tampa Tribune site on the Hillsborough River is under contract to a Miami developer that plans to erect a mid-rise apartment complex with hundreds of units.

Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at susan@tamapbay.com. Follow @susanskate.

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