Desert Sun building for sale for $7.5 million after press move to Phoenix

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Gannett, the parent company of The Desert Sun, announced it is moving the paper’s printing operations to Phoenix.

Palm Springs Desert Sun

The Desert Sun building on North Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs is on the market for $7.5 million after serving as the home of the Coachella Valley’s sole daily newspaper for more than 30 years. 

The listing of the property at 750 N. Gene Autry Trail, across from the Palm Springs Air Museum, follows a move by the newspaper’s parent company, Gannett, to print the physical paper out of its facilities in Phoenix starting in September.

While about three dozen printing press employees were let go at that time, the paper’s editorial and advertising staff — approximately 50 people — remain in the Coachella Valley. 

Although most of the staff has been working remotely since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, more employees are planning to begin working at the Gene Autry Trail building before the end of the year. Executive Editor Julie Makinen said that will continue until a sale is completed.

“A lot of incredible journalism came out of this building,” Makinen said. “But our newsroom is not going anywhere — our journalists remain here in the Coachella Valley, reporting day in and day out as we have been since 1927.”

She added: “I am optimistic that we will find a wonderful new home for our newsroom that brings us closer to the community. And if the proceeds of the sale of the property can help sustain our journalism, then this is a prudent path.”

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The Desert Sun building on Gene Autry Trail. (Photo: The Desert Sun file photo)

BellCornerstone of Manlius, New York, is handling the sale.Real estate agent Aidan Cleghorn said they’ve already received several letters of interest from “a wide variety” of potential buyers.

The two-story, nearly 97,000-square-foot property sits on 9 acres and contains ample parking and outdoor space, with spacious balconies and offices that showcase mountain views.  

While demand for large office space has declined since the coronavirus pandemic, other kinds of commercial properties are still in demand, Cleghorn said.

In the case of The Desert Sun building, the proximity to the airport and the potential for commercial and industrial uses in the larger former press area work in its favor.  

“It has a big footprint, it’s very well situated, and it’s zoned such that a buyer could use it for distribution, or some kind of industrial use,” he said.

Cleghorn said the pandemic hasn’t changed Gannett’s real estate approach, which is to get top dollar for its properties, and provide “good stewardship” for the company’s financial future. 

“The overall goal has been to do what’s in the best interest of the local business unit, the local newspaper,” he said.

Cleghorn anticipated a sale wouldn’t occur until 2021.

The Desert Sun building opened in 1989, several years after The Desert Sun was sold to Gannett. After the relocation, the paper launched its Sunday edition and for the first time in its history was printed seven days a week.

The sale comes at a time when newspapers, already under financial stress due to the digital transformation of the news industry and lasting impacts from the Great Recession, are newly reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Pew Research Center said this week that advertising revenue for newspapers in the second quarter of 2020 fell by a median of 42% compared to 2019.

Gannett’s print advertising revenue fell 45% to $188 million in the second quarter, compared with the same period a year earlier. Digital advertising and marketing services revenue was down 27% to $104 million. Circulation revenue fell 14% to $342 million, but paid digital subscriptions rose 31% from a year earlier to 927,000.

The Desert Sun isn’t the only Gannett newspaper in California looking for a new office. BellCornerstone is also handling those sales. 

Gannett put the longtime home of the Redding Record Searchlight up for sale earlier this year after printing operations were contracted out to the Enterprise-Record in Chico; the newsroom staff continues to work in Redding. That 51,552-square-foot property was built in 1980 and listed for $3.7 million.

Cleghorn said that listing is under contract with a local user. 

The Record in Stockton, a newspaper that was owned by GateHouse Media before that company acquired Gannett in 2019, put its downtown offices up for sale or lease in 2019.

That paper closed its presses in October 2018 and contracted out printing to the Sacramento Bee. The Stockton Record property takes up two city blocks with 160,000 square feet of office, warehouse, and distribution space and is listed at $7.5 million.

Cleghorn said they’re close to getting under contract with a buyer for that property.

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Melissa Daniels covers economic development, hospitality and local business in the Coachella Valley. She can be reached at (760)-567-8458, [email protected], or on Twitter @melissamdaniels.

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