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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    The Day listing building for sale, plans move to leased space in downtown New London

    The Day building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London — Pursuing a course that had long been inevitable, The Day Publishing Co. is putting its 115-year-old building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive up for sale, the first step in the company’s eventual move to another, as-yet-undetermined, downtown location.

    “We’re committed to staying in downtown New London,” Timothy Dwyer, president and publisher, said. “As a company, we’re committed to New London.”

    The listing, for $2.65 million, is set to appear this week on commercial real estate websites, perhaps as soon as Monday. It will be disseminated via email blast to governmental leaders, economic development officials, commercial real estate brokers, tenants and developers, according to Shawn McMahon, a broker with Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, the real estate management firm handling the sale.

    The Day’s board of directors voted unanimously last month to approve the building’s listing.

    Related story: The Day's building grew along with the newspaper

    Dwyer, who became publisher in 2019, said planning for the move, begun under his predecessors, was nearing a conclusion when COVID-19 struck, almost immediately prompting employees to work from home. The pandemic, he said, stalled the process and altered management’s view of the company’s future needs.

    The shutdown and selling off of The Day’s press — since 2011, the paper's been printed in Providence — and newsroom downsizing occasioned by falling revenues had left the company with far more space than it required.

    The Day’s most senior reporters remember when those working “dayside” shared desks with colleagues who arrived in the afternoon to work a late shift. Well before the pandemic, the number of empty desks had proliferated. In raw numbers, The Day’s current workforce in New London totals 127 employees. Thirty-eight of them are classified as newsroom, roughly half as many as there were 15 years ago.

    “With the ever-fluctuating COVID rates, it is challenging to figure out just how much space we will need when we move, never mind what we will need in five years,” Dwyer told employees Friday in an office email. “We cannot predict how long it will take to sell the building.”

    Earlier, he said an appraisal done for The Day in November 2019 put the value of the building's 65,000 square feet of space and less than an acre of land at $2.3 million. He said two parties, one being READCO, owner of the former Citizens Bank building next to The Day, had expressed interest in The Day building but neither had made an offer to buy it.

    ***

    Maureen Croteau, a long-serving member of The Day’s board who headed the University of Connecticut’s journalism department for 38 years before retiring in August, said readers of the paper, its website and its other products should know The Day’s eventual move portends no change in its approach to its mission. That mission is spelled out in the will of Theodore Bodenwein, The Day's owner and publisher from 1891 until his death in 1939.

    “We’re selling the building, not The Day,” she said.

    “We’re not going to become some virtual newspaper where everyone works from their kitchen table or the front seat of their car," Croteau vowed. "We’re going to continue to be a real newspaper with a real newsrooom where people can come into the office. We’re still going to be what we are, but in space that works better for us and is less expensive.”

    Bodenwein, who devoted his life to “building up a newspaper in New London that should become a recognized institution in the community," according to his will, called for The Day to produce a good news product, treat its employees well and return excess profits to the community. For it to spend more than necessary on space it doesn't need would run counter to such aims.

    “It will be very hard to leave a building that has symbolized The Day for so many decades,” Croteau said. “What would keep us in it is history and sentiment. But businesses don’t run on history and sentiment.”

    Mayor Michael Passero said Friday it's comforting to know The Day is seeking to lower its overhead by supporting a commercial landlord in the city. “We have plenty of them,” he said.

    “Certainly, we understand that the paper, the institution, has to preserve itself,” Passero said. "Having all that real estate just isn’t conducive. It’s happened with other papers. It’s the way of the world, and we’ve been expecting it for a while.”

    He said The Day’s interest in occupying downtown office space is a sign that New London is on the rebound. Breweries, he said, have expressed interest in locating a brewpub in the portion of The Day building that had housed its press.

    “Every day, we’re dealing with developers and investors looking for a space for something, and we’re running out of open space,” Passero said. “We need to redevelop the old structures we have.”

    ***

    Newspaper buildings have been showing up in for-sale listings with increasing frequency in recent years.

    In 2015, the Norwich Bulletin's former Franklin Street complex in downtown Norwich sold a year after the paper had moved to leased space. Ownership of the Providence Journal's building also changed hands in 2015, and in October 2021 the Rhode Island paper's printing facility, where The Day and other papers are produced, went on the market. In 2020, the Hartford Courant outsourced its printing to the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, then vacated its leased headquarters, announcing its staff would permanently work remotely. Spaces left behind went up for sale.

    "Newspaper buildings are unique properties," said McMahon, the broker handling The Day's listing, citing The Day building as an example. "They're often a mixed-use asset with industrial space and high ceilings where the press used to be. Then, typically, they have office space as well. Most are located in central business districts."

    McMahon, a New London native who attended city schools before graduating from Waterford High School and UConn, delivered The Day newspapers while growing up in the 1970s. He said The Day building's buyer most likely will be a developer interested in turning it into multifamily housing, retail or office space, or a combination of the three.

    "I doubt we'll find an industrial use for it," he said.

    Amid COVID, the commercial office space environment has been challenging, given the prevalence of work-from-home policies. But as the pandemic recedes, things could improve over the next six to nine months, McMahon believes. 

    "It's probably a good time to put it on the market from an office-space perspective," he said.

    When a newspaper building goes up for sale, nostalgia tends to ensue.

    "It is a little sad to think of the day we will no longer be in this historic and iconic building," Dwyer, The Day's publisher, said in his email to employees.

    Timothy Cotter, the executive editor, expressed a similar sentiment.

    "I've been working in this building for more than three decades. For some of our retirees and current employees, it's been even longer," Cotter said. "My desk has moved, my view has changed but it's always been 47 Eugene O'Neill."

    "The last time I walk out of this building will be a sad day," he said, "but times have changed and the space is just too much for us now."

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

    The Day building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    The Day building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    The Day building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    The Day building at 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints

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