Oregon Publisher Builds Apartments p.9

By: JIM ROSENBERG THE REGISTER-GUARD may be completing a move begun several years ago, but Guard Publishing Co. is not leaving Eugene. It's not even abandoning its paper's downtown offices.
About two years ago, the west-central Oregon daily, the state's second largest, relocated production to a new plant five miles north of downtown, but still within city limits. By late next summer, the newspaper's back shop and front office will be rejoined when editorial and business operations move into a new office adjacent to the plant.
When that happens, the University of Oregon will expand into the paper's downtown offices, and on its parking lot, Guard will erect a seven-story, 60-unit apartment building.
While much still depends on the city's permit process, said Register-Guard vice president and general manager Fletcher Little, "The plan at this point is to break ground in June or July. It will take a little over a year to actually complete the project."
The project is actually two projects: simultaneous construction of the downtown apartment building and the paper's new offices. Little said Guard Publishing will own the apartment building but operate the business through a contract with a management company.
Guard Publishing is not new to the role of landlord. When presses in its new plant went into live production, the University of Oregon leased the old plant for its own printing facility. And when the paper's staff moves into its new offices, the university "will occupy the rest of our current office building downtown," said Little.
"They intend to use it for a continuing education center. I believe they are going to put their radio station into it, and they are looking for a couple of other tenants, as well," he said. The university's lease takes effect as soon as Guard moves out, "and that should be by September of '97," Little said.
Little said the newspaper company got into the residential rentals business when a local developer approached Guard with research that supported his plan to develop the downtown site.
"We recognized that, as we moved out of the downtown facility, we had an awful lot of property . . . something in excess of four acres that should really be developed beyond being a parking lot. We just saw an opportunity to leave more behind than a parking lot and an empty building," Little said.
"It just seemed like a unique opportunity for us," he continued, noting frequent questions from city officials about the fate of the downtown facilities.
"We think it's a good solution, both for us financially and leaving something of a very positive nature for the downtown economy. It seems to be a good fit."
The city's population is approximately 121,000, while almost 290,000 people live in Lane County, which Little said is his paper's market. His paper's circulation, inching up since the early 1990s, now stands at almost 76,000 weekdays, 79,000 on Sunday and over 86,000 on Saturday.
In some respects, developing and renting properties is characteristic of Guard Publishing. The company has not been timid in its business decisions. It invested in Bend, Ore.-based Bellatrix Systems, the firm that supplies its electronic news rack technology ? which it used to support a change to three-tier pricing.
It also raised its per-copy prices during the last recession and saw an increase in sales.
It also pursued construction during the recession and equipped its new plant with what was then only the third order for a Mitsubishi offset newspaper press ? two four-color satellite units and eight units and half decks (E&P, Nov. 30, 1991, p. 24).
After operating the new press for about two years, Little said: "We couldn't ask for a better scenario. We're tracking right now about 98% on-time starts and finishes with our press runs, and everything is just working beautifully."
While larger media companies may own real estate, Guard is probably unusual in its rental business. But it's not the first to hold residential property. The owner of the Taconic Press, in high-rent Duchess County, N.Y., bought and repaired a two-story house in 1988 to provide affordable apartments for employees of his 11 publications.
Charging employees monthly rent equal to about a week's starting pay, Taconic publisher Hamilton Meserve told E&P, "They basically have no lease.
The understanding is this is available as long as they are employees of the papers." (E&P, Feb. 4, 1989, p. 14.)
Seventy-five years ago, the Newark Star-Eagle tried to boost its 67,248 circulation by offering new six-month subscribers 40?x100? wooded lots in a section of what is now heavily developed northeastern New Jersey for just $76.50.
Last month, Star-Ledger reporter Jonathan Jaffe dug up the origins of Woodbridge Township's Star and Eagle streets and Auth and Block avenues. (His paper derives its name from the predecessor Newark Ledger's merger with its financially ailing competitor.)
Unable to profit from his own real estate investment, Star-Eagle general manager Henry Auth sold the parcel of land to other investors, who in turn resold it to Auth's paper, which then subdivided it for its own promotion.
The Star-Eagle's success in selling papers and the yards on which to toss them remains unknown, but a major local retailer eventually bought lots the paper couldn't sell.
Block Avenue, by the way, was named for Paul Block, the defunct daily's publisher and eventual sole owner, whose son, William, co-published the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is board chairman of parent company Blade Communications.
?(Guard Publishing Co. will build an apartment building in the parking lot across from its Eugene, Ore., Register-Guard's downtown offices, which it will lease to a university.) [Photo & Caption]


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here