Big news out of The Star tonight…
Just days after officially posting notice that the headquarters building at 1729 Grand Blvd. and the printing plant on McGee Street were for sale, KC Star publisher Tony Berg this afternoon told employees the building had been sold.
The three-story, Italian Renaissance-style building has been home to The Star since 1911.
The fate of the printing plant, which was completed in 2006 at a cost of $200 million, is uncertain. However, The Star’s owner, McClatchy Co., has been seeking to sell it — along with the main building — and lease it back for an initial term, of 15 years.
One longtime reporter, Matt Campbell, posted this on Facebook tonight…
“Sadly, publisher Tony Berg today confirmed that McClatchy is selling the old brick home of The Kansas City Star. A century or so of history was reported and written in that second-floor newsroom.
It used to be full of (cigarette and cigar) smoke and (whiskey) bottles in desk drawers. Since I’ve known it there have been many makeovers. But it is still a huge space, with thick support columns and it is still a place where truth is distilled.
The group that gathered here at 4 p.m. today numbered about 100. We were told the population of the building is now 243. I don’t know if that reflects the Monday layoffs. (More about that in a minute.) There used to be 1,700-1,800 people in this building.
You can almost hear the wind in here now. If you wander this building…you find many weird spaces. It’s a great place…William Rockhill Nelson’s old office at the southeast corner of the newsroom is now a place where reporters learn how to do their own videos.
We’re told the buyer of the old building wants to convert it to commercial and residential use.
We survivors are going to move to the green glass printing building at 16th and McGee. In about a year.
It won’t be the same, but The Star will still be looking over the city.”
Initially, the building had no private offices. The Star’s website says that was because Nelson, The Star’s founder, “wants everyone to feel equal; others say it is because he wants to watch his help.”
It’s been public information for about a year now that the 1729 Grand building and the printing plant were for sale. The prospect of a sale became more palpable last week, however, with publication of a three-paragraph item that cited a commercial real estate listing placing the price tag of the properties at $46 million.
The listing advertised three parcels with a total of 650,000 square feet of building space on 8.3 acres. The listing did not specify how many buildings were for sale, but it included photos of the printing plant and the headquarters building.
Those of us who worked at 1729 Grand will be sorry to see the building transformed from its journalistic purpose. To me, though, the move makes a lot of sense.
The printing plant appears to be profitable. Several publications besides The Star are printed there, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Lawrence Journal-World, the Pitch (which, by the way, is going down to once a month from once a week) and the regional editions of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Also, it’s modern and large and can certainly accommodate an additional 243 employees.
Operating the 1729 Grand building, on the other hand, has to be a loser for McClatchy. The best thing it has going for it is it’s in the booming Crossroads District. New buildings, including hotels and apartments, have been going up and opening just west of The Star building, and lots of popular bars and restaurants dot the area.
As a beacon of journalism and a symbol of civic power, the 1729 Grand building has been fading — no different than many other other old-time newspaper buildings around the country. For the past several years it has been an anachronism, an institution not in keeping with the hip and fast-changing neighborhood around it.
Physical change was already taking place on former Star property. Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection — the Leawood-based behemoth — broke ground on a new church building, which will sit on on 1.2 acres that formerly was a parking lot for Star employees.
Before news of the 1729 Grand sale became public tonight, former KC Star development reporter Kevin Collison sent an email to several former colleagues, saying, “Maybe the congregation can pray The Star back to stability.”
We can now hold the prayers; The Star is going in a different direction.
More news from The Star…Steve Rosen, a longtime editorial employee, has been laid off. In an email to “friends and colleagues” Wednesday night, Rosen wrote:
“It pains me to inform you of my personal news. I learned late Monday that my news editor position at The Star is being eliminated. I am taking the severance package and my last official day on the job is March 31. While that’s not the way I wanted to go out after 38-plus years at 18th and Grand, you don’t always get to have things your way. The newspaper industry, and The Star and McClatchy in particular, remain in dark times, and the transition to digital continues to take its toll.”
I have also heard reports — unverified at this point — that Joe Ledford of the photo staff and Don Munday, a copy editor and resident Monday morning poet, have also been laid off. Each has more than 20 years of service.
The layoffs signal the paper’s ongoing movement away from senior people with relatively large salaries to bring in younger people who starting at salaries half, or less, of what the veterans were making…Like I said, The Star is going in a different direction.