As newspaper publishers continue to juggle shrinking staff sizes and the need for new revenue streams, The Ledger has found one solution: It’s subleasing the third floor of its downtown Lakeland headquarters to the Publix Super Markets IT Department.
To make room, the newsroom, business office and publisher have moved to the second floor, home to the advertising, circulation and prepress departments. Printing and packaging takes place in a separate, attached building.
Ledger Publisher Kevin Drake declined to comment on the move.
Publix spokesman Brian West said, “We’re very fortunate for our continued growth, and hopeful to be moving in by mid-summer.”
When the newspaper moved into its current structure at 300 W. Lime St. from a now-demolished smaller building next door in 1998, the newsroom was filled to capacity with 98 employees. A 99th, the first Web producer, had to be housed in another part of the building.
Staff cuts necessitated by declining advertising and subscriber revenues (as circulation continues to fall) have reduced newsroom staffing to around 45, leaving more than half of the desks unfilled.
The latest cuts came in September, when five positions were eliminated as page design was outsourced to a design/editing center in Austin, Texas, operated by Gatehouse Media, with which The Ledger is affiliated.
Among those whose positions were eliminated were copy editor/page designers Barb Stuewe and Betty Williams, who each had worked for the newspaper for more than 30 years, and graphic artist Julia Estrada. Two other employees whose positions were cut were able to remain employed after other employees left voluntarily.
Another 11 newsroom positions were cut in March as part of a companywide reduction in staff.
Publix’ sublease of 18,000 square feet will reduce The Ledger’s lease burden to the building’s owners, a consortium of investors from Little Rock, Ark., They bought the building for $16.6 million in 2012 shortly after Halifax Media Group acquired The Ledger and its sister newspapers from The New York Times Co.
Halifax was purchased in January 2015 by New Media Investment Group, whose GateHouse Media operates The Ledger and other newspapers in 27 states.
This summer, several buildings housing former Halifax newspapers were offered for sale, including The Ledger’s. The asking price of nearly $20 million (down from $21.5 million in October) for the downtown Lakeland property includes the unused 17 years on The Ledger’s 20-year lease. The listing is still online.
The Publix lease allows the supermarket giant to move more of its IT staff downtown. It has long housed IT personnel in the old JCPenney building on south Kentucky Avenue, and a sizable contingent of the IT staff recently moved into the Bank of America building located diagonally across the intersection of Lime and Missouri from The Ledger.
While Publix has not said publicly how many employees will move into the new space, Ledger employees were reportedly told recently of a plan to reserve 120 parking spots for Publix IT staff.
The Ledger last month tied a 50-cent-per-week increase in its home delivery price to the introduction of an expanded TV section. Readers could opt out of the TV section and extra charge by calling Ledger Customer Service at 802-7323.