The Star Tribune is about to close the doors on its nearly 100-year-old building, a physical transition and a psychological shift for Minnesota’s largest media company.
All the Star Tribune’s employees except its news staff will leave the limestone-and-granite building at 425 Portland Av. S. for the last time Friday afternoon. On Monday, they will return to work in new space at 650 3rd Av. S. in the Capella Tower complex. The complex is one of the largest office spaces in downtown, with a 58-story tower topped by a halo-like crown and a 20-story building that will be relabeled as the Star Tribune Building.
“I’m loving the move. I haven’t been here long enough to be nostalgic — only 15 years,” Genny Smith, who works in advertising finance, said Thursday as she packed up her workspace. “But change is a fact of life, and I think it shows we are still strong.”
The 250-person newsroom will move next weekend. The paper of Monday, March 30, will be the first produced in the new space.
“It’s like selling the family home,” said Rochelle Olson, a reporter. “But the family’s still together, and we now know we’re going to a place that is sleeker, brighter and more comfortable.”
It is the next milestone for a media company that sold its land and then itself in the last 18 months. The Star Tribune’s sale of five city blocks in November 2013 triggered the Downtown East redevelopment. The $38.5 million land sale helped pay off the Star Tribune’s remaining debt. Not long after that, the company was purchased by Mankato billionaire Glen Taylor.
“The move made tremendous financial sense,” said Mike Klingensmith, publisher of the Star Tribune. “Our land was a significant asset, so we had to realize that.”
With the move, the Star Tribune joins a growing number of papers across the country to downsize from outdated, signature buildings while modernizing their workspace in the process. The New York Times moved to a new building in 2007 and the Wall Street Journal did in 2009. In 2013, the Des Moines Register and Miami Herald left buildings that were landmarks in their cities.
“As news organizations move from this hyper-industrial process that requires lots of space for lots of people, to a slimmed-down model that requires basically a computer, it offers a real incentive to sell what is now valuable real estate,” said Nikki Usher, an assistant professor at George Washington University who published a study on newspaper moves last year.
The Star Tribune’s old building will be torn down this summer to make way for the 4.2-acre park to be called the Commons. The building was erected as a four-story brownstone in 1919 for the Minneapolis Daily Star and underwent multiple expansions, most significantly in the 1940s when it sprawled across a full block of what was then an industrial part of downtown.
“You can feel the past in this newsroom, and that has its charms,” said Rene Sanchez, the Star Tribune’s editor. “But this is a real opportunity for us to step into the kind of future we need to have in journalism.”
The Star Tribune’s new spot will be a bit closer to the city center, next to the Hennepin County Government Center and City Hall and two blocks from the IDS Center, the city’s tallest building.
Ted Campbell, an executive at Ryan Companies, property manager for the Capella complex, said the Star Tribune employees will have a greater “opportunity to encounter” people downtown by being in the large building and on the skyway system. “I think the Star Tribune will get more information that you don’t get when you are off on an island,” he said.
The move is also a chance to re-imagine the production of news. As at other newspapers that built new workspaces, a key element in the Star Tribune’s new office is a “news hub,” a central command center for breaking news where speedy decisions can be made. It’s the joint of the L-shaped newsroom and the visual center of the space with a view over City Hall.
Contractor Gardner Builders built a large, open staircase beside the news hub that connects all three floors the Star Tribune is occupying. “You get a place like the news hub where you’ll have a bevy of activity, it’s such an interesting space to build out,” said Bob Gardner, chief executive of the Minneapolis firm.
There’s also significant investment in the video and photo studios and adjustable workspaces for reporters, editors and page designers.
Designer HGA Architects and Engineers was challenged to create a space that encouraged collaboration and conversations, but that still offered privacy. “Writing is still a largely solitary job, but we really heard from the employee survey and management that there was a need for collaboration,” said Rich Bonnin, the project architect for HGA.
There are quiet writing rooms with views down S. 6th Street, phone rooms peppered throughout the floor plan for private calls and more break room spaces. Even more enticing to reporters is an attractive coffee shop in the building’s lobby, where meetings with news sources are already being lined up. The Star Tribune also plans to host public events with newsmakers in the lobby.
Klingensmith said having a space that the organization is proud of will hopefully translate into improved financials.
“Right now, we are hesitant to bring advertisers in because we don’t project a contemporary organization,” he said. “Everything here [at Portland] seems so retro, and we want to be forward-thinking.”
Many in the newsroom feared a generic, white-walled environment with buzzing lights and the lingering smell of cleaning detergent. Instead, the lights are energy-efficient and varied in style, the desks allow people to work either standing or sitting, and the break rooms are large and bright.
“We aren’t going to win the hearts and minds of readers with new desks,” Sanchez said. “We are going to win their loyalty with great journalists doing great work for the community. Having a brand-new newsroom like this is really going to help that cause.”