The Seattle Times Co. announced Tuesday that it is putting the Yakima Herald-Republic building up for sale and will begin printing the newspaper in Walla Walla.
The Yakima Herald-Republic plans to relocate to a smaller, leased space in Yakima, a process that could take up to a year, Alan Fisco, president of The Seattle Times, said in a phone interview Monday. The newspaper and its websites will continue to be produced by a Yakima-based staff.
The changes will result in the loss of about 50 full- and part-time positions.
Several factors went into the decision to sell, including financial difficulties in the past year. The building at 114 N. Fourth St. has been underutilized for some time, Fisco said.
Early last year, tenant KAPP-TV relocated to new offices downtown, resulting in lost revenue and additional unused space in the 50,000-square-foot YHR building.
The building also needed “significant and expensive capital investments” had the Yakima Herald-Republic remained there, according to a memo Fisco and Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen shared with employees. The Seattle Times Co. has owned the Yakima Herald-Republic for nearly three decades. It also owns the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, which will print the Yakima Herald-Republic on newly-acquired presses installed this winter.
“There’s just a ton of space in the building we weren’t using,” Fisco said.
While Fisco did not provide specific figures, he said the Yakima Herald-Republic was “not profitable in 2020” due to a substantial decline in advertising and commercial print revenue.
In the employee memo, the company said the paper had a 30% drop in advertising revenue due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local businesses.
The paper also sustained a 40% drop in commercial printing revenue due to publications reducing page counts or closing.
Fisco said much of the YHR’s commercial printing loss came from the departure of the Tri-City Herald’s printing contract. The Kennewick-based newspaper, which had closed its printing press and inked a deal with the Yakima Herald-Republic in 2012, is now printed in Spokane.
At one time, the Yakima Herald-Republic ran three print shifts to accommodate publication of the newspaper and its commercial printing clients, Fisco said. Now the press only has one shift.
“With the new press that is in Walla Walla, we can print there on a much smaller footprint and save the dollars we used supporting this building,” he said. “We don’t have the need (for the Yakima press) to the degree we used to.”
About half the 50 eliminated positions are full-time. The company said it hopes to hire some of those workers for openings in Walla Walla and a printing plant in Kent.
The company plans to offer a severance package to affected employees. Terms of the package are being determined as they start negotiations with unions representing many of the workers, Fisco said.
The Seattle Times Co. will work with Seattle-based Century Pacific on the Yakima Herald-Republic building sale and plans to list the building in the next few weeks. Century Pacific has worked with The Times on other real estate transitions, including the sale of The Seattle Times’ building at 1000 Denny Way a decade ago. The company’s flagship newspaper recently renewed a lease that reduced its footprint from four floors to a single floor, reflecting the newspaper’s current needs, Fisco said.
“I haven’t seen significant challenges to a lease versus owning,” he said. “You have much more flexibility in the lease process.”
The Yakima Herald-Republic will remain in the building until the building is sold and a new location is secured, which could take up to a year, Fisco said.
How much space the Yakima Herald-Republic needs is also being determined.
“There will be a group of people who will be working remotely almost full-time, a group who will be in the office a couple of days a week and a group who is in the office five days a week. We’re trying to sort those details of who needs to be there,” Fisco said.
Fisco said he acknowledges the challenges ahead for the Yakima Herald-Republic, but he believes selling the building is one strategy to ensure the paper’s long-term future.
“We’ve owned the paper for 29 years,” Fisco said. “We’re proud of the history we have had there and look forward to getting through this pandemic and get to the point where we can sustain that vision and mission.”
Many newspapers across the country have sold their buildings and relocated to leased offices in the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the loss of newspaper advertising revenue.
The Tri-City Herald moved to a new location in August, several months after the McClatchy Co., the paper’s parent company, sold the newspaper’s downtown building to a Pasco real estate firm.