Former AJC headquarters given to city of Atlanta

Cox Enterprises is donating The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s former downtown headquarters to the city of Atlanta, the city and company announced Tuesday.

The donation includes the 72 Marietta Street office building as well as the newspaper’s former printing press building behind it. Cox estimates the nearly 6-acre parcel downtown is worth about $50 million.

Mayor Kasim Reed called it an “ideal location” to consolidate the city’s office space in the wake of the sale of City Hall East. Reed plans to put police and fire training academies in the buildings, use the auditorium for public meetings, create a gallery space that formerly was at City Hall East, and use warehouse and parking space.

“I’m going back to my office to do a cartwheel,” Reed said at a press conference Tuesday. He noted that the donation followed recent news of a $47 million grant to fund a downtown streetcar.

He said the “unprecedented” gift from Cox Enterprises will not only help the city’s balance sheet, it also will enliven Marietta Street between Five Points and CNN Center.

“We need that area to be filled again, with people shopping, people dining and people working,” Reed said.

The building will enable the city to cut lease costs by about $2 million a year, he said. The city will pay for some retro-fitting and cosmetic improvements before city workers start moving in the spring, the mayor said. He added the city will also generate about $1 million a year by selling spaces in the parking lots for downtown events.

Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, said the donation represents a continuation of the company’s long relationship with the city.

“Through our local media properties, the history of metro Atlanta and Cox Enterprises are inextricably linked,” Kennedy said in a statement. “For almost 150 years, our companies have covered the events that helped shape our city, from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era and beyond, and we will continue to do so.”

By donating the building, Cox will no longer have to pay property taxes on it and likely will get a tax benefit for the gift.

The AJC had occupied the building since 1972. The donation includes the nine-story office building on Marietta and the four-story printing press building between Fairlie and Spring streets, plus warehouse space and surface parking.

The site is near the proposed transit hub in downtown Atlanta. Reed said he has committed to using the building for 36 months, then will decide about its future use in light of transit hub planning. With the donation the city becomes a large property owner near the proposed hub and “will be involved in that process,” Reed said.

Clark Dean, the senior managing director of corporate services group for real estate firm Studley, said the location lends itself to government use given its proximity to other city, county and federal offices, he said. And the city can use both the office and industrial features of the site.

“It’s the kind of asset that wouldn’t be a pot of gold for everyone, but could really be for the city of Atlanta,” he said.

Cox Enterprises never listed the building for sale. In 2009, when the newspaper announced plans to move, city representatives called to inquire about the future of the downtown offices. The call set in motion discussions that led to the donation, said Dale Hughes, senior vice president for legal affairs and strategic investments. The company said other ideas were floated for the building but Atlanta made the most compelling case.

“We looked at a broad landscape of possibilities, and we always came back to the city,” Hughes said. “They had a need, and we had a solution. It’s been a great partnership and a way for Cox to invest in the growth of the city.”

The newspaper consolidated its print production at a Gwinnett County facility in 2008, ending the need for printing downtown. And after workforce reductions resulting from the newspaper industry slump the AJC was occupying less than 30 percent of the complex.

In April, the AJC moved to a six-story office building in Dunwoody, near Cox Enterprises headquarters and other Cox units.

Cox is building two nine-story office towers on its campus to house the technology department of cable division Cox Communications. The construction by Cousins Properties is one of the largest building projects in metro Atlanta.

Cox Enterprises is one of the region’s largest private employers with 7,000 employees. Nationwide, the $15 billion company has 66,000 employees.

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