The Seattle Times plans to sell its printing-press property in Bothell to fund news operations, and will shift to printing the paper at its Rotary Offset Press in Kent next year, the company announced Wednesday.
The Times opened the North Creek production facility on 120th Avenue N.E. in 1992, and printed both The Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. With the P-I an online-only publication, the press prints The Times, local copies of USA Today and, once a week, local papers for China Daily.
The company intends to put the 23.5-acre facility, which includes the press and three parking lots, up for sale in the next week or so, said Seattle Times president Alan Fisco.
The move to the Kent facility is expected to happen in the first half of next year.
There will be job losses at the facility, which typically employs about 150 people, but it’s too soon to know how many, Fisco said. Some workers in Bothell will be able to transfer to the Times’ Rotary plant in Kent.
Fisco said the decision, a year and a half in the making, is the result of two ongoing trends: the decline in the print-media business, and the boom in local real-estate values.
North Creek has four printing presses. In its heyday the plant printed 500,000 papers on Sundays, with the capability of doing at least 750,000 a day. Now it prints about 170,000 Seattle Times print papers per weekday and 230,000 on Sundays, plus some others for the local USA Today and China Daily editions.
The Times also owns the underutilized Kent facility, which prints local editions of The New York Times and commercial printing jobs, and can handle the addition of The Seattle Times and other papers currently printed in Bothell, Fisco said.
At the same time, commercial real-estate values across the region have soared.
Fisco declined to say how much the company expects from the sale, but the county has assessed the four parcels at $38 million. The Times purchased the land for the press facility for $8.2 million in 1989.
The money is needed as The Times deals with the same extreme declines in print revenue that are plaguing the entire newsgathering industry. Fisco declined to detail The Times’ financial situation, but total newspaper revenue across the country has plummeted from a peak of $49.3 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. In the last decade, 45% of all U.S. newspaper jobs have disappeared.
The Times has in recent years pivoted to a business model based on subscriptions, and has found some success. The company has more than 40,000 digital subscribers, more than most nonnational papers. It has avoided layoffs in the newsroom for the last couple of years and continues to hire both for general newsroom positions and grant-funded spots in its Education Lab, Traffic Lab and Project Homeless.
“We’re starting to see the emergence of a new business model. This will help us with the continued transition,” Fisco said.
“There’s a ton of momentum, and this is going to help us keep going,” he said.
But property sales have also been a major revenue source for the Times over the years.
The Blethen family, which has owned the Times for 122 years, sold off four properties in South Lake Union from 2011 to 2013 — including its former newsroom — for $88 million and used the proceeds to reinvest in the newsroom. The Times also entered into an agreement to sell other empty lots to the north and south of the North Creek press in October, though the sale hasn’t closed yet, so the purchase price is not yet known.
The paper rents an office for its journalists and business employees at Denny Way and Boren Avenue, in the heart of Amazon-land in South Lake Union. That lease runs through 2021, and there’s no news on whether the paper might renew the lease or move elsewhere at that point.
Fisco said The Times also has some debt to pay down on the Bothell plant, as well as pension-debt obligations to fund at the company, though he declined to provide financial details.
He also acknowledged the unknown number of workers at the company who would likely be out of a job.
“There’s going to be a lot of people impacted and a lot of lives turned upside down,” he said. But the decision to sell and reinvest in the news organization “is a huge deal for us and the Blethen family.”
Fisco said the move will not significantly affect deadlines for journalists finishing Seattle Times stories that readers see in print the next day.