Portland Press Herald to move operations to South Portland

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PORTLAND — The Portland Press Herald will move its newsroom to South Portland, all but ending the newspaper’s physical presence in Portland.

The move to 295 Gannett Drive, which will occur as soon as the company’s One City Center offices can be subleased, was announced Wednesday by Publisher and MaineToday Media Chief Executive Officer Lisa DeSisto.

“We are reducing our footprint, but staying in downtown Portland, including signage,” DeSisto said Wednesday. She said MaineToday Media will keep an office at One City Center for auxiliary use by news and advertising staff.

The company is also selling the building and 21 surrounding acres of land on Gannett Drive to JB Brown & Sons, a Portland development and property management company, according to the newspaper and an announcement by broker CBRE/The Boulos Co. It will lease the property back from Brown.

“We are in the journalism business, we are not in the real estate business,” DeSisto said. “With 171,000 square feet (at Gannett Drive), there is plenty of room for everyone.”

On Wednesday, JB Brown President and CEO Vin Veroneau confirmed the purchase price of $4.9 million.

“We just think MaineToday is a good tenant,” Veroneau said. “It is nice property,  well located and has future development potential.”

Veroneau said he became interested in buying the property after completing the sale of the former Schlotterbeck-Foss building at 117 Preble St. to former City Councilor John Anton last month.

Anton will convert the five-story building to 55 one-bedroom and studio units.

According to the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, the MaineToday Media sale and lease arrangement with JB Brown is for 10 years and could extend to 40 years.

“I think it is clear newspapers are doing this across the country,” DeSisto said. “It is also not the first time this has happened to this company.”

DeSisto said proceeds from the sale will allow MaineToday Media – which in addition to the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram publishes the Augusta-based Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel in Waterville, and Coastal Journal in Bath – to buy a more efficient printing press.

“Our hurdle moving forward was having a more efficient press process,” she said.

DeSisto said sales, circulation and other staff had already moved to South Portland. MaineToday Media has leased the space at One City Center since the sale of its former headquarters building at 390 Congress St. in 2009.

MaineToday Media is also in negotiations with unions representing reporters and press operators, DeSisto said, but declined further comment on the nature of the discussions.

The former Press Herald offices at 390 Congress St. have been converted to the Press Hotel, which opened last spring. The Guy Gannett Co., former owners of the Press Herald, shifted printing operations from 385 Congress St. to South Portland in 1989.

According to South Portland tax records, the Gannett Drive property is valued at $12.16 million, with $9.9 million of the assessment for the building. It was last sold for $2.4 million on June 1, 2015, when investors led by Reade Brower and Chris Miles bought MaineToday Media from hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman.

The “development potential” Veroneau referred to on Gannett Drive will remain untapped at present, he said.

“Given our work in Portland, I don’t see us turning our attention to the property for some time,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Updated on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, at 7:59 a.m.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.