It’s not often that we here at the paragraph-stacking factory stop what we’re doing and offer you a special edition.
But today is such a day…
Julius Karash, a former Kansas City Star colleague (and still close friend) saw a recent online story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch telling readers that the Post-Dispatch headquarters building in downtown St. Louis was being put up for sale by the paper’s owner, Lee Enterprises of Davenport, IA.
A longtime business reporter with a keen eye for development stories, Julius recognized that the Post-Dispatch situation, although 250 miles away, held intimations for Kansas City. Here’s his perspective.
By Julius A. Karash
The recent news that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch downtown headquarters has gone up for sale makes me wonder how long it will be before the Kansas City Star sells its iconic headquarters building at 18th & Grand.
As much as I hate to see it happen, I think a “For Sale” sign will land on this building in the near future. Because of fewer employees due to cutbacks and technological advancements, The Star and other newspapers don’t need nearly as much space as they used to.
This trend is occurring around the country. McClatchy, the Sacramento-based owner of The Star, has sold off newspaper headquarters buildings in Miami and Fort Worth during the past several years. In North Carolina, it was reported in May that a sale was about to close on the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer’s building, and the McClatchy-owned Raleigh News & Observer reportedly has been exploring the sale of its downtown headquarters.
Other newspapers that have gone this route in recent years include The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. It makes economic sense for newspapers to sell their grand old edifices, pocket the cash and move into space that better fits their needs in today’s slimmed-down media world.
Those wielding a sharp pencil can make a compelling case for selling The Star’s headquarters. The building that once housed more than 2,000 employees now employs several hundred. The Star could probably create office space for quite a few of those employees in its spacious printing-plant complex across McGee Street and/or move them into leased space.
At one time, The Star and Jimmy and Joe’s “The Pub” — also across McGee — were neighborhood anchors. No more. “The Pub” has been reconstituted as “The Brick,” and the 18th and Grand building is now surrounded by numerous other bars, restaurants, condos and apartments that have flooded the Crossroads, converting the area into a “happening destination” for young people looking for fun, food and a hip place to live.
The KC Downtown Streetcar, which is scheduled to start running between the River Market and Crown Center/Union Station next year, will accelerate this trend.
The super-charged pace of development in the Crossroads and Downtown makes 18th & Grand an attractive property. It’s a beautiful, historic structure, built in 1909-11 and designed by Jarvis Hunt, the famous Chicago architect who also designed Kansas City’s Union Station. The site would be a great location for a business, residences or a combination of the two.
The 18th & Grand building holds a special place in the hearts of most people who have worked there, including me. The building resounds with history and conjures up former inhabitants such as Ernest Hemingway. If you worked at 18th & Grand, you felt like you were part of that history.
I was part of that history for 21 years until I was laid off from The Star in 2008, along with many co-workers. Today, as a freelance public relations person, I subscribe to The Star seven days a week and depend on it as my primary source of local news. My clients want their news to be in The Star, and I pitch their story and column ideas to former colleagues of mine at the paper. When I drop in from time to time at 18th & Grand, it feels like visiting the home folks.
I hope The Star will continue to cover Kansas City for years to come. And when 18th & Grand is sold, I hope the building will be emblazoned with an etched plaque that says “Kansas City Star Square” — regardless of what the grand old structure may be used for next.
Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person based in Kansas City. His work involves topics such as transportation infrastructure, real estate development, entrepreneurship and health care. His 30-plus year newspaper career included stints at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Fort Myers News-Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Kansas City Times and Kansas City Star. He co-authored the book TWA: Kansas City’s Hometown Airline. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.