The landmark CNN Center building in downtown Atlanta may soon have a new owner, though CNN employees will remain there for at least a few more years.
AT&T, which owns CNN as a result of its 2018 acquisition of Time Warner, has either already agreed to sell or plans to sell the CNN Center, according to an internal company memo sent on Monday. WarnerMedia, the subsidiary of AT&T that operates CNN, will lease back the building from its new owners for at least five years.
CNN employees won’t be affected immediately. But long-range plans call for many if not most CNN employees to move from downtown to recently renovated buildings near Georgia Tech that already house TNT, Cartoon Network and other WarnerMedia networks. WarnerMedia has a total of about 6,000 employees in Atlanta.
The CNN Center has long been a downtown magnet. It was damaged in late May when protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota turned violent. A large sign of CNN's iconic red logo, located at one of the building's main entrances, was also damaged during the demonstrations, though quickly repaired the next day.
CNN has occupied its namesake building since 1987, when Ted Turner moved the network there from its original home at the Techwood campus, where it was founded in 1980.
That move “was a spark that catalyzed development there,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor. “It’s right where Centennial Olympic Park was built. Over time, it helped the rebirth of downtown.”
After Turner sold CNN to Time Warner in 1996, the network’s executives and anchors began to move from Atlanta to New York. When New York-based Jeff Zucker took over CNN in 2013, he moved all CNN weekday anchors to New York. Last year, WarnerMedia made a big investment in CNN’s facilities at Hudson Yards, a new mixed-use development in Manhattan.
More recently, CNN Center has been largely empty, as many CNN employees have worked from home since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. Many of those workers may not return to the office until next year. CNN also suspended its studio tour in March.
The decision to sell CNN Center was made years ago by Time Warner executives as a way to cut costs, although the plan was set in motion only after AT&T purchased Time Warner, Pascal Desroches, WarnerMedia's chief financial officer, said in Monday's memo. Desroches suggested CNN Center could be repurposed from an office building to having more of an emphasis on retail as part of downtown’s burgeoning entertainment and tourism economy.
WarnerMedia may have already found a buyer for the CNN Center, as Desroches said in the memo, “we are not disclosing the sale price at this time.”
Credit: Henri Hollis / Henri.Hollis@ajc.com