MERIDEN — The city is considering a plan to purchase the Record-Journal Publishing Co.’s building at 11 Crown St. through federal grant funding. The purchase would allow the Record-Journal to remain in its longtime headquarters for at least two years until a more suitable location can be found, while giving the city another site for redevelopment downtown.
The City Council on Monday is expected to refer a resolution for the purchase to the council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee, as well as the Planning Commission. The city would buy the 109-year-old building for $495,000 through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Challenge grant.
“Because the Record-Journal employs 100 or more people, we would like to keep the Record-Journal within the city center for a period of at least two years while ... they look for a new location,” City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said, noting the city would assist in finding a new location.
The city used a portion of the grant to change zoning in the downtown area to a transit-oriented district. The transit district is meant to encourage mixed-use buildings, moderate-to-high density private development, encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment, and to streamline the approvals process. The city is also trying to increase housing downtown while razing the Mills Memorial Apartments public housing development. Displaced tenants would be relocated to units in different mixed-income developments that would be created downtown.
The 11 Crown St. property has “potential for development of 39,204 square-feet of office/retail space, 40 to 80 residential units, $200,000 in new property taxes annually and (provides) a potential site for relocation of a limited number of Mills housing units,” according to the council resolution.
In July 2012, the Record-Journal placed its longtime home on the market for $1.25 million, a figure that has since been reduced, in hopes of moving to a more modern office space. The property is appraised at $1,056,500 and assessed at $896,070. Independent appraisals the city commissioned valued the property closer to the $495,000 purchase price.
“There are multiple benefits to our company with this transaction,” Record-Journal Publisher Eliot White said in a company memo, Friday. “The immediate cash will be reinvested into the business to help us continue our transformation in our ever-changing newspaper industry. During this two-year time period, we will plan for a modern work environment in 2016 to fulfill our goal of having our 100 employees work in contiguous, modern office space. We will also look forward in 2016 to eliminating the huge operating costs required to maintain a 109 year old building in which we occupy less than 30% of the usable space.”
As it exists today, Record-Journal employees in different departments are spread out on three floors, hindering communication and collaboration. The overall operation could improve its effectiveness with about 15,000 square feet on a single floor, White said when the building was listed for sale.
White said he is confident the Record-Journal and the city will be able to continue their relationship from both a business and journalistic standpoint, remaining fair and balanced when writing about city affairs.
“This will be a professional business relationship handled by our (chief financial officer) and the Meriden city manager, separate from our news and advertising relationships with the city,” White said.
There is hope from both sides that the Record-Journal will be able to relocate its offices and 100-plus employees within the city center area. To allow additional time for relocation, the city’s lease with the Record-Journal will last for two years with an option to move to a month-to-month arrangement after that.
Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee Chairman Brian Daniels said the acquisition of 11 Crown St. seemed to fit in with the city’s overall plans.
“Generally, this is consistent with all of the goals that we want to do for the TOD,” Daniels said. “This is continuing to find replacement for units at Mills, using state and federal grants for the purchasing of properties and not city tax dollars...This could keep employment alive in downtown and economic development alive with keeping business downtown. And this manages to do all of that.”
Councilor Dan Brunet said he was “in the middle” on the deal, but noted it would be good to maintain a business in the downtown.
“It seems like (the Record-Journal) is making a good faith effort to keep its operations within the downtown,” Brunet said. “Obviously that would be the best case scenario if it could be reached. They’ve been in their present location virtually forever. We want to keep those types of businesses in place downtown.”
Mayor Manny Santos said it was important to keep jobs in the city’s center.
“I want to make sure those jobs stay here,” Santos said. “It’s important to make sure the R-J has an option to stay here.”
The flagship newspaper, the Record-Journal, reaches about 50,000 readers per day and its six weekly community papers reach more than 52,000 readers per week in seven contiguous communities. Its website, Myrecordjournal. com, has more than 100,000 unique visitors per month.
The company also owns a daily newspaper in Westerly, R.I., the Westerly Sun. In 2012 the Sun’s downtown building was sold for $925,000 to a bank wishing to expand its holdings in downtown. The Sun staff moved to new office space on one floor nearby.
Monday’s City Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in council chambers of City Hall, 142 East Main St.
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