After a protracted search, The Charlotte Observer appears to have landed on its new home: the NASCAR Plaza just down the street.
City records show that the Observer has started a project in the building, 550 South Caldwell Street. Publisher Ann Caulkins told employees that the company is still trying to reach a lease agreement, so the move isn’t a done deal. But this move has been rumored for months, and these are the first tangible public steps toward it.
The Observer staff is likely to move before the end of the year. When they do, it will be the first time the newspaper hasn’t been at Tryon and Stonewall since 1927. The company’s been on the site in two different buildings over the course of those nearly 90 years.
The new location makes a lot of sense. For one, it creates a mini media hub in the building. The Charlotte Business Journal relocated to the ninth floor there from South End in 2014, and NASCAR itself has a large media production operation in the building.
The building is also a highly visible spot in the city, particularly if the Observer puts its logo on it. I’d argue that placement more than rivals the prime location it has next to I-277.
It’s also a big deal for NASCAR Plaza and its owner, Parkway Properties. This is the building that Chiquita made its corporate headquarters before deciding to ditch town, leaving a huge amount of vacant space. The corporate logo only came down off the building a few weeks ago.
The Observer’s move has been in the works for years at this point. The Observer removed its printing press from the building in 2014 and began looking for a new home soon after that.
Lincoln Harris has been moving toward purchasing the building and the 9+ acres underneath it since last year, but property records indicate the sale hasn’t closed yet. The site is one of the biggest development opportunities Uptown and could be home to a massive mixed-use complex — think retail, office space and homes.
But the Observer — or its parent company, McClatchy, for that matter — won’t really benefit financially from the multi-million-dollar sale when it goes through. The company transferred ownership of the property to its pension fund back in 2011 to meet legally required obligations. The Observer has had to pay rent to the pension fund since then, and a trustee for the fund searched for the best deal on a sale.
Still, if you care about Charlotte media, this is really the best possible scenario for the Observer. Other McClatchy properties have relocated to far-flung suburbs (Miami Herald), and this keeps the newsroom right in the heart of the city.