Tampa Tribune owner looks to split properties on Hillsborough River

TAMPA – As the parent company of the Tampa Tribune looks to sell the newspaper, it has asked the city of Tampa about splitting two properties it owns overlooking the Hillsborough River. Media General of Richmond, Virginia, has filed a three-page application asking whether splitting its properties at 200 and 202 S Parker St would require city approval.

WFLA/Tampa Tribune offices

WFLA/Tampa Tribune offices

“Media General Operations Inc. is seeking a formal decision that a proposed parcel split will not trigger the need for any application process through the city of Tampa’s (office of) land development coordination,” according to the request, which was signed by Kenneth Campbell, Media General’s director of real estate and facilities in Virginia.Media General said in a news release this week that it “expects to enter into a transaction with one of several prospective buyers” for the Tribune and its associated print properties, which include regional newspapers. It offered no details on the timing of a sale or the identities of the potential buyers. The building at 202 S Parker St contains the old offices of the Tribune. In 2000, Media General converged three operations – the Tribune, NBC affiliate WFLA – Ch 8 and Tampa Bay Online – in a $40 million News Center that it built immediately to the north of the newspaper building.

In May, a subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway agreed to pay $142 million for every newspaper that Media General owned – a total of 63 print operations – except the Tribune. As part of the deal, Media General kept its broadcast operations, including WFLA, borrowed $400 million from Buffett’s company, and gave it the right to a nearly 17 percent stake in Media General. Berkshire Hathaway exercised that right this week.

In July, Media General said it was in discussion with prospective buyers for its Tampa print properties and associated websites. At the same time, it set aside the Tribune for accounting purposes as a “discontinued operation” and said a sale was “probable.” The public has until Oct. 5 to comment on Media General’s request to the city, said Thomas Snelling, Tampa’s director of planning and development. After that, city zoning officials have 30 days to consider the facts and render their interpretation. While people can share their opinions, the process is purely administrative and does not go to the City Council.

Together, the real estate parcels that are the subject of Media General’s request have a market value of about $15.5 million, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. The property appraiser says the land that makes up the two parcels in question is valued at $3.7 million, but does not break down the value of each parcel separately. The depreciated values of the old Tribune building and the News Center are about $935,000 and $10.7 million, respectively, according to the property appraiser.

In addition, the company has $12.6 million in tangible property – such as equipment, technology and printing presses – on both parcels. Of that, $4.5 million in equipment belongs to WFLA. The Tribune has $1.7 million in equipment at the News Center and $6.4 million in equipment in its old building.

Neither Tribune publisher Bill Barker, Katherine O’Donniley, a Tampa lawyer who is the company’s agent on its request to the city, nor Media General vice president of corporate communications Lou Anne J. Nabhan returned calls for comment.