New Plants Trade Space For Production Gains

By: Jim Rosenberg

Major-metro and midmarket dailies are trading real estate for real gains in production, distribution quality, and efficiency. Two examples, in Michigan and Florida, are hardly similar but clearly linked. Expecting to see savings on plant, equipment, and labor, Detroit’s joint operating agency will sell one plant and expand and modernize its other one, while a Florida cluster that evolved over the last 20 years will leave behind three plants for centralized production in a new plant at a new site.

As it happens, the two operations retained the same consultants and architects, and contracted with the same press manufacturer, for very different plants housing very different presses. In each case, the presses account for roughly half the total project investment and represent a move from old offset to new.

On-site cooperation

For 35 years, the E.W. Scripps Co. owned The Stuart News, based in the seat of Martin County, Fla., on the St. Lucie River just downstream from Port St. Lucie. Then, in a 2000 deal with Freedom Communications Inc., Scripps acquired The Tribune, based in Fort Pierce, on the Atlantic Coast a few miles north of Port St. Lucie — where no daily was published but which was served by two newspapers now owned by Scripps.

Scripps, however, had locked up more than just St. Lucie County. To the south, in 1982, it purchased the semiweekly Jupiter Courier, covering a short stretch of coast that includes adjacent corners of Martin and Palm Beach counties. To the north, it bought Indian River County’s Press Journal, in Vero Beach, and the weekly Sebastian Sun.

Coastal geography and demography are such that Scripps’ new “cluster” is really a string of publishing properties along the Treasure Coast, which stretches between Central Florida’s Space Coast and South Florida’s Gold Coast. Other titles include the Treasure Coast Business Journal, Fifty Plus Lifestyles, and total-market-coverage and niche publications.

Chosen for a new plant to centralize production and distribution of all Scripps’ area dailies and nondailies, Port St. Lucie is the one city in the market where Scripps Treasure Coast Publishing Co. has never printed newspapers but nevertheless covers with two dailies. City and county officials swung the deal with tax incentives under a 10-year program that voters renewed last week. The county intends to kick in a four-year tax abatement worth $1.4 million, and the city committed to $540,000 over three years, plus $250,000 against infrastructure costs for the industrial park’s developer, according to Rebecca Freeman, Treasure Coast’s vice president and general manager. The plant’s approximately 100 workers will bring the company’s county work force to 186, almost a 50% net increase.

The Press Journal reported that St. Lucie was the only county to offer new or expanding businesses tax abatements, which are graduated over several years (and do not apply to school, firefighting, or children’s-services taxes). Without them, “we’d have to go back to the drawing board,” Treasure Coast President and Editor Thomas E. Weber Jr. told the paper. “We need a substantial tax incentive to make this project possible.”

The papers began consolidated circulation auditing this year. Treasure Coast’s Freeman traces consolidation to 1996, when a single circulation director and single advertising director were appointed. But overall consolidation will be limited. “We will maintain our local content,” Freeman insists, adding that the various titles’ flags will remain but also carry the note: “An edition of Treasure Coast News Press Tribune.” She characterizes the change “the best of both worlds” — better production and distribution of the same content to which readers are accustomed.

What that will mean for Port St. Lucie readers remains to be seen. Approximately 40% of copies of the News (audited circulation 37,641 as of March 31) and Tribune (circulation 28,403) sell in Port St. Lucie. As many as 300 Tribune copies make it into Martin County, and a few hundred copies of each paper also circulate in or around Vero Beach. (The Press Journal sends 13% of its 33,268 circulation south to Fort Pierce or north into Brevard County.)

Freeman cites at least “two different groups of people” in Port St. Lucie: commuters who identify more with Martin County and long-established residents who continue to have an interest in Fort Pierce, the county seat. So the efficiencies of operational consolidation may permit the company to sustain, in one form or another, the two local papers now serving the city and soon to be printed there.

For their somewhat more distant distribution, those editions of the News and Tribune are now run first off their presses in Fort Pierce and Stuart. “When we get to the new building, Port St. Lucie will be next door. So we’ll print that second,” says Operations Director Michael D. O’Leary.

On-site competition

Unlike Treasure Coast, which can control all its publications and their production, Detroit’s dailies are editorial competitors owned by the country’s biggest newspaper chains but produced by a third business entity — Detroit Newspapers, the corporate creature of a joint operating agreement (JOA) entered into 13 years ago this month. The JOA joined the business operations of The Detroit News, Gannett Co. Inc.’s 242,391-circulation evening paper, and the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder’s 368,839-circulation morning paper. Their combined Sunday issue’s circulation is 738,709.

Production has been divided between the Riverfront Plant, built near downtown by Knight Ridder in 1979 and expanded in 1987, and the North Plant, built in 1973 about 20 miles from downtown in Sterling Heights by the Evening News Association, a former News owner.

By late 2005, however, the dailies will no longer be made in the Motor City or even be printed on U.S.-made presses. Instead, they will pump out of the vastly expanded North Plant. But don’t suspect hostility to the hometown or the homemade. The papers serve not just the city but also much of Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario; the Riverfront Plant is only half the size of its outlying counterpart; and the domestic maker of both plants’ presses now only manufactures overseas.

So, like much of the rest of America, Detroit Newspapers will grow in the suburbs and roll on imported iron. The agency is going to add 190,000 square feet to the 500,000 already available in the North Plant. About 125 employees from the Riverfront Plant will join 675 working at the North Plant. Business and news operations will remain in Detroit.

In use since 1979, the Riverfront Plant will be sold. Valuation of the Riverfront Plant, according to Senior Vice President of Operations Keith Pierce, is little more than conjecture because the land’s value depends on any property upgrade and the area’s future development and desirability. The decision to operate out of one expanded plant was reached “after two to three years of studying our … market, distribution, and editorial requirements,” says Pierce. Alternatives included the addition of color towers to the existing presses and construction of an all-new facility at a greenfield site. But the North Plant, he says, had “enough acreage and usable property.” Besides the expansion, 140,000 square feet of existing space will be renovated.

Before they build

Before either project could get off the ground, figuratively or literally, each faced issues peculiar to its own environment.

Though Sterling Heights is happy to see the North Plant expand, the city had certain concerns, traffic chief among them. In the course of securing permits and approvals, Detroit Newspapers redesigned parking and the ingress and egress of cars and trucks to make employee access easier and minimize the plant’s impact on area traffic, Pierce says.

About a thousand miles south, the owner of property at St. Lucie West Industrial Park needs a turtle total, not a car count, before selling the parcel to Scripps’ Treasure Coast unit for its new plant. Florida requires landowners to find and pay to relocate to public preserves all healthy gopher tortoises before developing their habitat. A number of the burrowers were found and are being relocated. (After the Richmond [Va.] Times-Dispatch plant opened in 1992, a 50-pound snapping turtle liked to trudge to its entrance, where it hissed at employees arriving each morning. Carried back to its on-site farm pond several times, the turtle seemed to lose interest in newspaper operations, according to a Media General Inc. spokesman.)

Treasure Coast’s greenfield site is a dense woods with no wetlands, according to Kevin Anderson, the McClier/designAlliance designer working with Keith Heirls, who manages the project for the Denver- and Chicago-based firm. Anderson says regulations require that at least 25% of nonwetlands remain undisturbed. At the same time, however, a developer must clear out invasive non-native plants (but cannot re-landscape the area as part of the protected 25%).

“By luck,” says Anderson, the structure will be positioned such that “areas that would have to be cleared of exotics” will be cleared for parking anyway. Scripps managers “really made a conscious effort to be friendly to their site,” he says, adding that President and Editor Weber challenged everyone involved to go beyond minimum requirements and preserve as much as possible.

Two new team leaders

McClier/designAlliance Executive Vice President Ken Harding designed Treasure Coast’s Stuart administrative building 12 years ago. His since-merged company just completed a three-month architectural and engineering phase for the new building. Citing only “a very positive relationship” with McClier/designAlliance, Treasure Coast’s Freeman said negotiations begin soon for construction.

The project team reporting to Freeman consists of an executive group representing each department at all three papers. Hired in May from Fort Lauderdale’s South Florida Sun Sentinel, where he served as packaging and facility manager, Operations Director O’Leary helps production put out five editions a day and is in charge of the building’s construction “from the production perspective.” His position is a new one at Treasure Coast, and either area of responsibility, he says, may occupy 10% to 90% of his attention on any given day.

Meanwhile, up north, McClier/design Alliance provides Detroit Newspapers with architectural, engineering, and construction-administration services, along with site planning and process analysis. Assisting on structural and civil engineering is the local firm Ghafari Associates. Just two weeks ago, Etkin-Skanska of nearby Farmington Hills was chosen as general contractor.

In September, Detroit Newspapers hired Michael Mayo as project director, responsible for directing the project team and production staff to “ensure the overall success of the project.” Most recently corporate production director at Knight Ridder (where he oversaw development and/or delivery of numerous press projects), Mayo earlier had been at the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal when it converted to flexo printing. During that time, he first met his future boss when Pierce joined the nearby JOA nine years ago after stints at New York’s Daily News and in magazine and catalog operations.

For different reasons and in different ways, Treasure Coast and Detroit Newspapers are very large projects, and their leaders emphasized the same point: Only a team can cope with such projects’ magnitude and complexity.

O’Leary says teamwork is his only guarantee of success. Besides him, Freeman, and Weber, leaders include Scripps Operations Director Frank Wolfe, Scripps Florida Finance Director Dave Buckey, and Tribune General Manager Lynn Ferraro. Pierce acknowledges the “immeasurable … assistance” of many, among them Production Vice President Mike Quinn, Pressroom Director Dennis Johnson, and Technical Director Terry Horne — all original task-force members.

Demands on design

Design requirements for Detroit are entirely different from those in Florida, says McClier/designAlliance’s Anderson.

Work on the North Plant involves “demolishing a good portion of it and adding back an even larger piece,” he says. “This building is so large,” says Anderson, the addition must “incorporate elements of the existing building” because the old and new structures “are nearly equal in size.”

But because it adds to an existing plant in an established manufacturing area, “this is not a showpiece building” in quite the way others are, says Anderson, adding, “The process and the equipment side is the real focus.” The architect’s rendering certainly seems to soften that focus, which Anderson attributes to the need to create a human-scale approach from the parking area, with suitable lighting and large horizontal canopies that make the entrance to the huge building evident.

Anderson says Detroit Newspapers required McClier/designAlliance to consider cost-effective, efficient exteriors that complement the existing structure. Metal paneling was chosen, with a base color matching the lower segment of the rest of the building. To avoid an overpowering and unattractive aspect, a “complementary, lighter, less-imposing color” will be used above.

High windows at the front end of the press hall and where the presses in each line meet “interrupt the large mass of the press bay and create a better working environment,” says Anderson.

But in Florida, he says, “the challenge for the client was to find a site … central to their market” and able to “accommodate any foreseeable growth.” The south-of-center site anticipates growth. Separate deals for adjacent parcels totaling 17 acres along Interstate 95 will give Treasure Coast areawide visibility. Looking out 10 to 15 years, the master plan builds in space for a third press, in case commercial work is undertaken. And though “too far in the future” to be planned, says Anderson, there is land enough for doubling the plant’s size.

But besides room for expansion, the 125,000-square-foot plant will not be smaller than the sum of the existing plants’ space, he says, because “it will do more than the three combined.” The old plants’ fate is uncertain, but Treasure Coast’s O’Leary said Stuart’s “will likely become a distribution center.” As for Vero Beach and Fort Pierce, whether or not the current buildings are used, the company will need “regional offices” with space for distribution in both communities.

The front of the new building, along I-95, will provide the strong architectural image and “branding” the client required. So for future expansion, says Anderson, “it grows from the back.” The layout allows packaging (likely the first to see growth) to expand without affecting printing and paper storage, and, later, a press expansion that will not interrupt packaging.

One of the biggest design factors was helping ensure that “this facility operates during and after a hurricane,” Anderson says. An emergency generator for uninterrupted-power and personnel-safety systems also will be able to run platemaking equipment. If needed, a local supplier will drive a larger, truck-mounted generator to the plant to power some printing and packaging.

To withstand winds exceeding 130 miles per hour, “the entire building incorporates hurricane-resistant glass,” Anderson says. Shelter against ordinary rain and the region’s strong sun is provided by large covered areas outside the cafeteria and on-site distribution center.

The only areas not air-conditioned will be newsprint storage and the distribution center, where activity is comparatively brief and at night. For efficiency, maintenance, and cost reasons, all heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will go “into an enclosed central plant” rather than on the roof, avoiding the exposure damage that shortens service life.

Avoiding disruption in Detroit

Apart from a plant’s design and equipment, the nature of any operation determines the execution of a project. Whereas Scripps will start from scratch at a new site, allowing existing plants to function as before, only one of Detroit’s two plants will remain unaffected. “The phasing of this is a huge challenge,” says Anderson.

“There will definitely have to be some very complicated rescheduling procedures,” says John Sohl, McClier/designAlliance project manager for Detroit. Though the project may have recourse to temporary storage areas and “work around the construction itself,” Sohl says, “We’re building in phases” with the client “staying 100% operational.”

Six phases are planned: 1) utilities are relocated, a new receiving and waste section is created, and a new automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) building is put up. With that accomplished, 2) the existing rack storage system can be torn down (with a four- to five-month period of warehouse and possibly trailer storage until the new AS/RS is commissioned), leaving room to build 3) the new pressroom, followed by a packaging area and 4) the south packaging addition, after which 5) floors one and two are renovated, including dismantling the second-floor mailroom and using the space for a locker room and administrative offices, and 6) finally removing the old presses and renovating the space for newsprint storage.

With presses running at two sites (Sterling Heights prints about 60%) and new presses to be phased in, Detroit’s project team is more concerned with work flow “from the folder to the doorstep” than with its ability to get papers printed, says Mayo. That means ensuring reliable materials flow from the temporary storage arrangement and not seriously delaying the passage of trucks during construction and installation.

It is particularly important because all inserting occurs at the North Plant. The Riverfront Plant has only a run-of-press mailroom. With the exception of some special sections it prints that are trucked to the North Plant for inserting, copies from the Riverfront Plant go out to distribution centers, where they are married to sections from Sterling Heights that carry inserts.

Two metros under one roof

Of the $177 million Detroit Newspapers will spend on the project, fully half will pay for new presses at the North Plant: six new Geoman offset presses from German manufacturer MAN Roland.

The North Plant’s 54 units of Goss Mark V letterpress were converted to offset years ago by TKS — possibly the only such conversion in use, says Pierce. Operable either as nine six-unit presses or as three press lines of 18 units and three folders each, the old iron is believed to have no resale value, according to Pierce. The Riverfront Plant’s 42 Goss Metroliner units and 10 Headliner Offset units will be sold.

Replacing it all will be six 75,000-copy-per-hour Geoman presses in two lines comprising 60 reels, 300 printing couples, and six folders. MAN’s Pecom system will provide automation and plant management. According to MAN, the Pecom controls and AC direct drives will speed makeready, and edition, section, and page changeovers. Levels from bottom to top between the parallel press lines will house reelroom and press (quiet room) operations, platemaking, motor-drive controls, and HVAC systems.

“We’re anticipating three of the six presses … up and in operation in July of 2005,” says Pierce. When that happens, they will share printing with the Riverfront presses and the North Plant’s old machines will come out. When the remaining MAN presses are ready three months later, says Pierce, the new equipment will take over entirely and Riverfront will close. “We’ll always have back-up capacity while we bring the new equipment on-line,” he says.

When both Geoman lines are in, Detroit Newspapers will be able to run “fewer presses at much higher speed,” Mayo says. “They will be able to do on six [straight-run] presses what they now do on a far greater number of [collect-run] presses.”

Daily, weekly, monthly printing

With a MAN Roland Uniman in Stuart, a Harris 435 with Heidelberg Mercury tower in Vero Beach, and a Goss Urbanite in Fort Pierce, Treasure Coast won’t have Detroit’s concerns about maintaining production or phasing construction. Like the experience with Harding’s firm, satisfaction with the 18-year-old Uniman sent the company back to MAN, according to Freeman.

Unlike Detroit, scheduling challenges in St. Lucie West begin after the $45-million project is complete, when two MAN Regioman presses take over printing three morning dailies, a semiweekly, a weekly, monthlies, and various other publications.

The doublewide, one-plate-around presses are to arrive a year from January and begin printing later in 2004. The papers were earlier changed to the narrower pages cut from the 50-inch-wide webs that the presses use. Cut-off will come down to 211/2 inches.

The 70,000-copy-per-hour presses will consist of 82 printing couples in eight four-over-four, two four-over-one, and two two-over-two towers sitting over 14 reelstands and feeding single and double-delivery 2:3:3 folders. Options chosen with the Pecom controls are PrepressLink for ink presetting from digital page data and ProductionManager for detailed reporting.

Able to print two 56-page main editions that include 36-pages of process color, or a single run of 80 pages with 60 in full color, the presses should meet advertisers’ demands for color.

Treasure Coast plans to print its three dailies’ five editions in three hours beginning at midnight. “We expect four-section press runs to be the norm,” says Freeman, adding that with extra pages and sections, “we plan to have an advance [run] for most editions.”

Pre- and post-press prospects

Neither Detroit Newspapers nor Treasure Coast has decided on a platemaking technology or contracted for mailroom equipment. Both, however, expect to adopt computer-to-plate (CTP) output from prepress and online inserting in post-press, where they plan to use at least some of their existing post-press systems.

In Florida, the one-around Regioman will keep down expenditure on higher-cost laser-imaged plates for multiple editions. The Scripps unit plans to select platemaking equipment by next summer.

In Detroit, Pierce expects to see full CTP in operation when the new presses start up. Until then, he says, there is plenty of time to evaluate vendors and changing technologies — perhaps a role for conventional ultraviolet-imaged plates in CTP — and await further decreases in the plates’ premium pricing.

Treasure Coast hopes to have contracts early next year for equipment able to insert and bundle all its products, including inserting multiple dailies off two presses.

Freeman says that in addition to relocating one of its existing GMA SLS-1000 inserters, her operation is “closely evaluating” new technology and hopes “to augment this machine with a new inserter” at the new plant. Two lines of gripper conveyor from the folders are planned.

Gripper conveyor likely also will carry Detroit’s editions from the pressroom to its Heidelberg 630 inserters, “which will be expanded,” says Pierce. “A greater number of the papers will be fed directly to the inserters,” which will have double-out capability, adds Mayo. In all, the North Plant mailroom will double in size.

Inserted copies covered by inkjet-printed topsheets will be stacked, tied, and passed to a bundle-distribution system, from which they will enter an automatic cart-loading system for delivery to about two dozen distribution centers. Requests for proposals are about to go out to vendors.

“We redesigned the work flow completely, from the receipt of newsprint … through packaging,” says Pierce, noting that the 10-year-old high-bay preprint storage will be torn down to “improve our process flow,” a new receiving dock and waste-processing area are to be built, and the ink tank and utility rooms will be rebuilt.

Storage of paper — unprinted and preprinted — always has consumed much time and space. The solution mimics modern press design: build up, not out, and automate.

Detroit Newspapers went to Siemens-Dematic for two rack systems, both served by cranes. One will rise approximately 110 feet and provide 4,000 positions for newsprint rolls and/or preprints. “The beauty is that newsprint rolls 50 inches wide and 50 inches in diameter can use the same-dimension racks as the preprint skids that we get,” says Pierce.

The second, two-high storage system will hold up to two days’ production (500-plus newsprint rolls) in the reelroom. More newsprint also may be stored in the area now occupied by some of the old presses.

In general, both newspaper companies anticipate the same improvements from upgrading and consolidating printing and packaging: better sectioning and printing, with more color, in all papers; extended editorial and advertising deadlines and/or earlier delivery to homes and newsstands; geographic targeting capability (though mostly a result of post-press improvements, says Pierce); reduced waste and materials consumption.

Neither project’s execs will estimate savings, though Pierce says they will amount to “many millions of dollars a year,” and Freeman sees them showing up throughout operations, from facilities to labor. “Consolidating … provides us a much better opportunity to leverage new technology like the Regioman and CTP,” she says. “Generating an acceptable payback on this equipment in a split-site operating plan would have been difficult.”

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