Moving The ‘News,’ Printing The ‘Times’

By: Jim Rosenberg

In something of a building boom among dailies across the country, the Heart of Dixie appears to be the center of construction. Despite generally falling circulations and shrinking work forces, The Tuscaloosa News is adding to its pressroom schedule and The Birmingham News is adding jobs. Covering neighboring counties of central Alabama, they are the latest to launch expansions and modernizations, following closely on projects in Mobile and Anniston (E&P, April 3 and Nov. 6, 2000).

In Tuscaloosa, the News has just begun building a new home. Planning for the project dates back five years. The 37,319-circulation (38,498 Sunday) New York Times Co. paper will spend $25 million to house all departments in a new, 90,000-square-foot facility that more than doubles the currently available space on Sixth Street. Overseeing the project are Circulation Director Paul Hass and Publisher Tim Thompson.

“We’re moving trees today,” Thompson remarked late last month, adding that although they had yet to break ground, the project’s aggressive pace will put people in a new building within a year. In fact, concrete ducts were already being prepared to carry power cables underground, and the paper is in talks with the city for certain easements, said Thompson. The city’s new riverwalk, an unrelated parallel project, will pass in front of the paper’s new headquarters.

The newspaper will build its new home from scratch at a downtown warehouse site served by an old railroad spur after having negotiated use of adjacent city-owned property, according to Thompson. For the Chicago-based newspaper facilities design firm McClier, he said, “This is their first project with a New York Times paper.”

The completed project will be home to another first — “the first Heidelberg press in any of the New York Times regional newspapers,” said Thompson. Now the product of a two-plate-around, single-wide Goss Urbanite, in its new plant the paper will roll off a 48-couple Heidelberg Mercury one-around press that also will print copies of The New York Times. The choice followed detailed evaluations of other presses, said Thompson, who pointed to “a lot of success” with Heidelberg at some Times contract sites, and the flexibility that a one-around design offers.

The project, said Thompson, “would happen even if we didn’t print any New York Times [copies] here.” It represents, he said, “confidence in the development of local markets to their fullest potential.”

McClier/designAlliance (its name since the newspaper workplace and process consultants based in Boulder, Colo., and Phoenix, merged with McClier) also is providing construction services and help in selecting, buying, and installing equipment, which it said will include increased packaging and distribution capabilities.

“We’re still in the process of picking the mailroom equipment,” said David Thurm, vice president of real-estate development of the parent Times Co., noting that the News has been using old Harris equipment – “a hand-me-down from another paper.”

To make the best selections and best use of new equipment, said Thurm, the company is “bringing learning from across … the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group to bear on the project.”
As much as meeting the needs of production and distribution, management wanted the building design to support the local company’s culture and business operations, said Thurm. He categorized the building site as “difficult … because it’s on a steep hill,” presenting design challenges that “I think we’ve addressed.” He noted that the location benefits from proximity not only to a major highway into the city but also to the Black Warrior River and downtown.

Plans for the hillcrest site take characteristics of regional and local geography into account. For example, the north side of the building will be given over to an open work area lighted by large windows that look out over the river and bridges, including what is believed to be the oldest active wooden-trestle railroad bridge. Individual offices are arranged back on the hotter south side, with windows that are “attractive but much smaller,” said Thurm.

To the east, Advance Publications’ 150,882-weekday-circulation (186,269 Sunday) morning News is the dominant daily in a joint-operating agreement with the E.W. Scripps Co.’s 12,408-circulation Birmingham Post-Herald. The main plant was designed in 1979, and “for the last 10 years it’s been a struggle” to keep up with the growth in freestanding ad inserts, said News Operations Director Thomas P. Grillo. On-site expansion was considered, he said, but was not found to be feasible.

Last spring, News Publisher Victor Hanson III said he was committed to finding a site in town to help the city’s revitalization. His paper reported the Birmingham News Co. would apply for tax incentives offered to expanding businesses. Most of the roughly 20 jobs the newspaper expected its new center would create have been filled.

After searching within the city for more than seven months and studying several structures, the company bought a warehouse last April, contracted with a local engineering firm, and created an 88,000-square-foot packaging and distribution center, of which just under half the floor space is devoted to inserting and the balance to circulation and distribution.

Six months and $5 million later, the new center is in its seventh week of operating a GMA SLS2000 inserter, Quipp stackers and underwrappers, and Dynaric strappers.

“We’re currently doing all our Sunday packaging over there,” said Grillo. Daily inserting is done at the main facility, but the paper recently began a phased transition of its expanded total-market-coverage product to the new site, where Grillo said the aim is to move as much inserting as possible. Eventually, he said, “the majority of it will be done there.”

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