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P-T: City must approve new zoning for site
By Jason Gewirtzand Don Jergler, Staff writer
LONG BEACH — The Press-Telegram has sold its building, a downtown landmark since 1925, to developers who plan to build two high-rise towers
featuring 482 residential urban lofts.
To make way for the $138 million proposal, the newspaper will relocate its offices to the Arco Center on Ocean Boulevard in summer 2006, Publisher Mark Stevens said.
"I am pleased that this project will preserve the essential character of our building and our legacy and help with the revitalization of downtown," Stevens said.
The newspaper did not intend to sell the building at 604 Pine Ave. until it was approached by developers interested in the property, he said.
After considering alternatives that included renovating the building, P-T management decided to sell the structure and surrounding land, which covers nearly an entire city block.
"It's an 80-year-old building that's in need of a significant overhaul," Stevens said. "It was determined that it made more economic sense for us to move into newer, more efficient and readily available leased space."
Long Beach-based October Five Development purchased the 2.45-acre Press-Telegram property for $20 million, said partner Jim Brophy.
The sale, which is in escrow, is contingent upon the city rezoning the site to allow for the high-density residential project.
As proposed, the loft project would feature 20-and 22-story towers
while keeping the facade and a portion of the newspaper's original building.
The project's name has not been determined but is tentatively called the Press-Telegram Lofts, Brophy said.
"I really think it's going to be a landmark on the north edge of downtown," he said.
The sale includes all but the northwest corner of the downtown block bounded by Pine Avenue, Sixth Street, Locust Avenue and Seventh Street. A deal for the remaining lot could not be negotiated.
The newspaper has signed a lease for 42,661 square feet on three floors about a dozen blocks from its current home, in the Arco Center's west building at 300 Oceangate, across Ocean Boulevard from the World Trade Center.
The P-T's 220 employees, who work in the editorial, advertising, administration, marketing, production, design, finance, human resources and systems departments, will move to the new location in late July at the earliest, Stevens said.
Offices for the Spanish-language Impacto newspaper, currently in the Press-Telegram building, will move into a portion of a fourth floor of the Arco Center, he said.
The deal with October Five is expected to close on April 28, Stevens said.
While downtown Long Beach is zoned for high-rises and high-density projects, subsections of that zone have height and density restrictions.
The Press-Telegram building falls into the mixed-use classification, which limits projects to 100 feet high and 54 units per acre.
To obtain a zoning ordinance amendment, developers would have to commission an environmental impact report. That process would include an analysis of potential traffic impact, public meetings with nearby residents and approval from the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Other developments have recently received such amendments, including a loft project on the parking lot of the historic Broadlind Building at Broadway and Linden Avenue in the East Village Arts District.
"Our current planning policies reflect that higher density is appropriate downtown,"
said Greg Carpenter, city zoning officer.
The project may also get a boost from a proposal by City Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, whose 1st District encompasses the project.
The council on Tuesday approved Lowenthal's proposal to create a "Loft District," which would streamline the conversion of older structures, such as the Press-Telegram building.
As proposed, condominiums at the Press-Telegram Lofts would be designed for middle-income, first-time buyers, Brophy said. The majority of the units will be in the 700-to 900-square-foot range. Units of 600 square feet to 700 square feet will likely sell from the high $200,000s and low $300,000s, while units up to 1,500 square feet would sell in the high $500,000s, Brophy said.
Most of the project would be built in brick to respect the style of the Press-Telegram building, he said. John Molina, whose family founded Molina Healthcare, has provided key financing for the project, Brophy said.
If approved, the project would add to a downtown condominium boom that has seen several recent high-rise projects along Ocean Boulevard.
"We believe that Ocean Boulevard is housing for people with a ton of money," Brophy said. "Our goal was to produce housing that was affordable for the middle income."
Joe Magaddino, chairman of Cal State Long Beach's Economics Department, said the project could address that need.
A building stalemate in the 1990s added less than 1 percent to the city's housing stock in that decade. With the anticipated addition of up to 50,000 jobs to the city by 2015, economists estimate 33,000 new units will be required to keep pace.
There is a particular need for mid-income housing, Magaddino said.
"As chair of the Economics Department, trying to attract faculty to the area is a tough sell," he said. "Even though the university pays pretty well, no one pays well enough to get into this housing market."
The project also brings hope to downtown's retail segment, which has lagged as merchants have been hesitant to come to the area until more residents with disposable incomes move downtown, said Kraig Kojian, president and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates.
"The more residential we can develop in the downtown, the stronger we're going to be able to advocate for additional retail," he said.
The October Five proposal would also feature 18,000 square feet of non-residential space. The company has been in discussion to provide a permanent home for the Arts Council for Long Beach, formerly the Public Corporation for the Arts.
In addition, the company would also provide space for arts-related programs from Cal State Long Beach, including a lecture hall and gallery, Brophy said.
Gary Reichard, CSULB provost, said the university is in "active discussion" with Brophy and is interested in creating a presence downtown.
For the Press-Telegram, the upcoming move marks a significant new chapter in the newspaper's history. The newspaper that became the Press-Telegram began publishing in 1897.
The P-T has called Sixth Street and Pine Avenue home since March 7, 1925. When the building opened, the newspaper noted that "the structure commands the public notice and its architectural lines are generally admired."
The building's architect was W. Horace Austin, who designed several landmark local structures, including the Long Beach Airport terminal, the downtown Farmers & Merchants Bank and the Poly High School auditorium.
At the Arco Center, the newspaper intends to occupy portions of three floors, including a reception area on the first floor of the west tower, Stevens said.
The newspaper's advertising operation would occupy the building's 12th floor, with the newsroom and editorial offices on the 14th floor.
The newspaper has signed a 15-year lease at the site, with a 10-year renewal option, Stevens said.
Bill Townsend, a principal with INCO Co., which represented the Press-Telegram in its building sale and office lease, said the deal with Arco Center is one of the largest recent commercial real estate deals in downtown.
While the move marks a shift for the newspaper, some of the daily operations have left the headquarters in recent years. Since 1998, the newspaper itself has been printed at a plant in Valencia. The old presses, however, remain in the building.
Brophy said he has yet to find a buyer interested in the machinery.
Executive Editor Rich Archbold said the move will allow the newspaper to operate in a more advanced setting.
"We'll be moving into very nice new offices, but we'll continue to publish the best local newspaper and online information in our market, period," he said.
One item that won't make the move is the newspaper's clipped archives, which sit in dozens of file cabinets on the second floor.
In their place, the newspaper intends to scan microfiche copies of the newspaper to preserve stories. The digitizing process, expected to cost about $250,000, will make back copies of the newspaper more accessible to reporters and researchers, Stevens said.
The newspaper considered moving the clip files, but the move proved to be a logistical and economic challenge.
"To retrofit the floors to support the weight, the cost was prohibitive," he said. "The conversion makes total economic sense."
Over the years, the Press-Telegram newsroom has played fictional newsrooms in movies and television. With its open space, glass offices and exposed building pillars, the space has retained a traditional look and feel.
Larry Allison, the Press-Telegram's Editor/Editorial Pages, has worked at the newspaper since 1957. While buildings have powerful connections and imagery, he said, the people at the P-T are more important than the structure.
Still, the building holds a special place, he said.
"It's just been a big part of my life for a long time," he said of 604 Pine Ave. "I imagine when it comes to leaving it for the last time, that's going to give me some pause."
The Press-Telegram is owned by MediaNews Group Inc., which bought the building when it purchased the newspaper in 1997. MediaNews Group also publishes the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers, the San Bernardino County Sun, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the Redlands Daily Facts, the Grunion Gazette and the Downtown Gazette.
Jason Gewirtz can be reached at [email protected]
or (562) 499-1373.