Saying it would be part of a renaissance on East Market Street, Philadelphia Media Network Inc. will vacate the iconic 86-year-old home of The Inquirer and Daily News for new space in the renovated former Strawbridge & Clothier store.
Gregory J. Osberg, publisher and CEO, made the announcement Monday afternoon in the Inquirer newsroom and later at a news conference with Mayor Nutter.
The company will lease the third floor of the former flagship store at Eighth and Market Streets, with the move expected to happen by July 1.
The lease is for 12 years and six months.
Relocating the newsrooms and business offices at 400 N. Broad St. is expected to save substantial operating costs for the media company that last year was acquired by new owners in a bankruptcy court auction. Proceeds from the sale of the landmark building with the gold dome - a deal that closed in October - were used to pay down debt, said Michael S. Kuritzkes, the company's general counsel.
Philadelphia Media Network will shrink its newsroom and office space to 125,000 square feet from its current 525,000 square feet at Broad and Callowhill Streets. About 740 employees work at 400 N. Broad; 600 will relocate to the new location. Employees also could relocate to facilities in Montgomery County or South Jersey.
The company said there were ordinances that will allow Times Square-like signage on East Market to boost the visibility of the newspapers and their website, Philly.com, at the new location.
The new offices will be leased from the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a firm whose holdings include the Gallery at Market East, adjacent to the former Strawbridge's store. Ronald Rubin is chief executive officer and chairman and he attended the news conference. Sources close to the deal say state and city economic-development funds are expected to be used to assist the move.
Osberg said the company would merge its newsrooms in the new location but maintain separate identities of the company's brands, which are The Inquirer, Daily News, Philly SportsWeek, and Philly.com.
"This has been our home for more than 80 years, and it will be difficult to leave it all behind," Inquirer editor Stan Wischnowski said. "It was here in this building that countless numbers of reporters, photographers and editors performed with great distinction for many decades at the national and local level.
"But it's time for us to begin a new and exciting chapter. The physical location is changing but not the mission of producing world-class journalism that our readers expect and deserve."
Nutter said that the city has boosted police patrols on East Market Street.
"We are pleased that the headquarters and hundreds of PMN employees will be on Market Street East, which is experiencing a significant rebirth," Nutter said. "At the same time, we are working closely with the new owner of the Inquirer/Daily News building to find the best use of that iconic structure."
Developer Bart Blatstein, chief executive officer of Tower Investments Inc., purchased both the Inquirer/Daily News building and the State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. He paid $21 million for the State Office Building, according to a July story in the Daily News, and he was expected to have paid slightly more for the Inquirer/Daily News building and its parking garage and surface lot.
"I don't have any intent to tear down the [Inquirer/Daily News] building," Blatstein said, adding, "I dig the building."
The building requires extensive improvements and he expects it to be part of a mixed-used project of offices, retail and housing, Blatstein said.
Among the options the Philadelphia Media Network considered were locations in Cherry Hill and Camden, along with 400 N. Broad St., 1500 Spring Garden St., and the former Rohm & Haas headquarters at 100 Independence Mall West, now partly occupied by a Dow Chemical Co. division.
A showpiece for decades, the newspaper building saw construction begin in July 1923. Set above a Reading Railroad bed and freight yard, the building soars 340 feet from the street. The cost was $10 million, and that included $2,400 of gold leaf encased in the dome.
The newspaper's owner at the time was Col. James Elverson and the building was initially called the Elverson Building. In addition to space for reporters, printing presses and business functions, the building came equipped with a posh two-story apartment.
When the first edition of The Inquirer rolled out of the building in July 1925, the North Broad facility was considered the most modern newspaper plant in the world. Lighted like a roman candle at night, the building became a navigational device for pilots.
The building's ownership changed hands over the years, with Knight Newspapers, predecessor to Knight Ridder Inc., eventually purchasing the papers in 1969. By the 1990s, the white building was aging and times were changing.
Confronting growth in the suburbs, the Knight Ridder chain constructed a new printing plant in Upper Merion Township. With printing gone, the ink-stained press room at 400 N. Broad was cleaned and renovated into a block-long modern newsroom for The Inquirer, looking down on Callowhill Street. The Daily News newsroom went to former production space on the first floor. Then came the Internet, changing the habits of many readers, and waves of employee cutbacks that eliminated reporters, editors, photographers and administrative personnel.
Relocating its offices leaves behind a neighborhood long associated with its operations. "A lot of people think of The Inquirer as a North Broad Street institution," said John Claypool, executive director of the American Institute of Architects in Philadelphia, "but I would not say that the building has become part of the business brand."