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Houston Chronicle Leaves Downtown; Newspaper Property Now Controlled by Hines

The Houston Chronicle building, 801 Texas Ave. in downtown Houston. Photo credit: Ralph Bivins. Copyright 2016

The Houston Chronicle building, 801 Texas Ave. in downtown Houston. Photo credit: Ralph Bivins. Copyright 2016

HOUSTON – After more than a century downtown, the Houston Chronicle — the city’s oldest continually published newspaper — is moving to the suburbs.

The relocation of the Chronicle from its block-sized building at 801Texas to the former Houston Post facility at 4747 Southwest Freeway – which was purchased two decades ago – is expected to be completed by the end of the 2016 first quarter, says Paul Barbetta, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Houston Chronicle Media Group. The relocation of the Chronicle’s downtown operations is being done in stages; the newsroom was moved on Friday.

“When Hearst bought Houston Post in 1995, it bought assets including the presses and the complex on the Southwest Freeway,” says Barbetta. “Today the Chronicle is printed on the former Post presses. The Chronicle also has operations downtown. Each building is only 50% occupied. It didn’t make economic sense to use both. Consolidating operations was the best option – a 100% occupied building is better than two half full structures. It was not a question of wanting to leave downtown for the suburbs, just simple economics.”

The move will save Hearst significant operating expenses, he adds. “We invested substantially in new location and we expect a payback within five years,” says Barbetta.

Hearst Corporation, which owns the paper, spent upwards of $20 million to remake the fortress-like Post building into a state-of-the art newsgathering operation, with most of the work concentrated on Building 1 of the seven-structure complex.

The Chronicle employed about 650 employees downtown, he added, and another 350 — mostly production workers – were at the former Houston Post building.

Building 1 will house most of the Chronicle employees. “A lot of thought went into work flow and associated employee adjacencies. The idea was to create a much more collaborative environment,” he says. “It’s ideal cooperative space. The four floors are nearly identical with very few columns.  Production and finance employees will be spread over the six other buildings.”

The new Chronicle complex will feature an auditorium that seats 450 and can host various community events as well as an employee cafeteria, training center, and multitude of rooms.

Last year, a partnership led by Houston developer Hines purchased the 10-story Houston Chronicle headquarters – constructed 100 years ago by Houston builder-banker-powerbroker Jesse H. Jones in exchange for a share in the business — for a future project.

Hines currently has no plans for the Chronicle site which covers 99,184 square feet of land including a half-block parking garage at 710 Preston, says Mark Clegg, director, media relations and communications for Hines. He adds no date has been set for demolition of the Chronicle building. “Our Southwest Region will consider all of its options and announce something in the future – but nothing has been decided at this point,” he says.

Hines is currently constructing the 48-story, 1.1 million square foot 609 Main Street at Texas Avenue. The Houston developer announced last year that the international law firm of Kirkland & Ellis was the first major tenant signed for the tower, expected to be completed in 2017.

The Chronicle’s departure from downtown Houston is the latest in a series of moves by American newspapers from central business districts – where space can now be leased at a premium – to other venues. It is not expected to be the last. A growing number of newspapers across the country are downsizing from outdated, signature buildings downtown to modernized workspaces. With mammoth presses, newspapers used to require lots of space. That’s changed. Nowadays the slimmed-down newspaper model of the future may only require a computer.

In addition, many owners want to monetize the valuable land underneath the presses. Earlier this month, the family that owns the Austin American-Statesman land said it was seeking proposals from real estate entrepreneurs to convert the 19-acre newspaper site into a mixed-use development. Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta-based company that owns the American-Statesman, announced in December that a separate entity composed of Cox family members was buying the newspaper land from the Cox Corporation, which retains ownership of the newspaper operations.

In New York, the Daily News left the News Building — Superman’s office with the revolving globe in the lobby – several years ago for an run-of-the-mill office building while the Miami Herald’s landmark bay front headquarters was demolished to make way for a gaming development.

Founded in more than a century ago by M.E. Foster, a former reporter for the Houston Post, who had been reporting on the Spindletop oil boom. The Chronicle published its first edition in 1901. It sold for two cents per copy.

Realty News Report – Feb. 24, 2016

Editors Note: Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by Ralph Bivins, who formerly covered real estate for the Houston Chronicle. 

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