(Updated Feb. 24, Kessinger Hunter has listed the 344,000 square-foot soon-to-be vacated Star Press Building as available for lease)
By Kevin Collison
The Star may be exiting its big green-glass press pavilion at 16th and McGee next year, but the newspaper’s landlord said the two-block long structure won’t be going anywhere–unless the Royals might like it as a ballpark site.
“We bought it with the idea it’s a great downtown location and has a multitude of uses,” said Rosana Privitera Biondo, president and managing partner of Ambassador Hospitality LLC, the entity that bought the 14 year-old production plant about two years ago.
“It was about us staying connected to the community and having more properties in our portfolio.”
Biondo, who’s better known for her role as president at Mark One Electric, received a heads up from McClatchy, The Star’s previous owner, about the chain’s decision to end its lease with Ambassador Hospitality last summer.
The Star posted a story about its decision Tuesday evening.
It plans to close the facility that cost $200 million to build and equip 15 years ago, and relocate its printing operation to the Des Moines Register production plant.
That move will cost 66 full-time and 56 part-time printers their jobs, according to the newspaper. The printing shift to Iowa is anticipated early next year and the entire 434,000 square-foot building will be vacated by the end of 2021.
The newspaper will be seeking new leased space for the remaining staff, including its newsroom and advertising functions, according to its report.
The moves come a little over two months after Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey hedge fund, purchased McClatchy, which filed for bankruptcy last February.
The Star relocated from its historic offices at 1729 Grand to the production facility in July 2018. The old building is in the middle of a $95 million redevelopment called Grand Place by developer Vince Bryant.
The closing was not news to Biondo, who said her firm began quietly pursuing new uses for the building, which covers two city blocks, after being informed of the decision in mid-summer.
“We’ve been working behind the scenes,” Biondo said. “We’d known for awhile, but held it in confidence so not to panic people losing their jobs.”
The Press Pavilion rises from four stories along 17th Street to eight stories above the South Loop freeway. Much of its space is occupied by four 60-foot tall KBA Commander presses from Germany, and a robotic system used to fetch huge newsprint rolls stacked 80 feet high.
The Star not only prints it’s own paper there, but also the Wichita Eagle, Topeka Capital-Journal, Lawrence Journal-World and other publications including at least at one time the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Mike Fannin, Star president and editor, said the Wichita Eagle will be printed in Hutchinson, and the Belleville (IL) News-Democrat, will be printed in Peoria. Both newspapers are part of the former McClatchy chain.
Biondo said when Ambassador Hospitality LLC purchased the production plant about two years ago, The Star still had seven years remaining on its outside printing contracts.
As for its future reuse, her firm has retained John DeHardt of Kessinger Hunter to market the building and hired Alpha Graphic Machinery to remove and sell the printing presses and other production equipment.
She said five groups, which she declined to identify, already have contacted her about the facility.
“There are many possibilities,” Biondo said, “perhaps an Amazon fulfillment center or other logistics use, somebody’s headquarters, a huge food market like you see in Europe, a huge brewery with its tall ceilings.
“The uses that have been discussed are similar to manufacturing because of the way it’s been built.”
And while she doesn’t believe the distinctive copper and glass building will be demolished after only being open 14 years, there is one possibility.
“It could be the site of a new Royals stadium that would be extended over I-670,” Biondo said. “It’s close enough to all the apartment buildings downtown, the Power & Light District and Crossroads.
“It would put people within walking distance of all the entertainment.”
As for those big German presses and all the other production gear, Patrick Francke of Alpha Graphic Machinery said it’s not exactly a seller’s market these days for sophisticated printing equipment.
“It’s a very soft market,” he said. “The Philadelphia Inquirer just shut down its press plant a month ago and the New York Times closed a plant recently as well.
“There’s really a lot going on around the country and beautiful, state-of-the-art equipment available. It will take quite awhile.”
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