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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Costs come due for Council on gift of AJC building

Memories…the former AJC newsroom, as it now appears
  • Joeff Davis
  • Memories…the former AJC newsroom, as it now appears
Nothing in life is truly free, as the cliche goes. And today, Atlanta City Council members are being reminded of that axiom in the form of cold, hard numbers — including long lines of zeros.

You'll recall that the AJC's parent company, Cox Enterprises, donated the newly emptied newspaper building at 72 Marietta Street to the city last November. Although Cox never really detailed its motives in giving away a property valued at about $50 million, most onlookers interpreted the move to be a smart, generous and mutually beneficial tax write-off.

The old AJC building is actually two buildings — or three, depending how you figure it — forming an "L" and stretching the entire block from Fairlie Street to Spring Street. There's the familiar nine-story office building that fronts Marietta Street and once held the newsroom, the "Deadline Diner" commissary and other offices. But behind that, separated by a wide alleyway but linked by a skyway, is a trapezoidal, hangar-sized structure that juts into the Gultch. About half that second building housed the ginourmous AJC press and the other half was used as warehouse space.

How big was the press? I'd guess about three or four stories tall and maybe as long as a football field, but judge from yourself from the photos after the jump.

I never learned what this machine is called.
  • Joeff Davis
  • I never learned what this machine is called.
Now, as part of its donation deal, Cox offered to deal with the old press, which hadn't seen regular use since 2007, when the AJC spent $30 million on new printing facilities in Gwinnett. I can tell you that city officials fairly jumped at the offer, seeing as removing the old press would be roughly equivalent to extracting a battleship from a bottle. To do the job, Cox brought in a machine that looked like a cross between a "feller buncher" used in timber harvesting and a Decepticon. The contractors had to cut a house-sized hole through the cinderblock wall just to drive this monster into the building. Once there, the machine would reach its claw up to tear off large hunks of the press with the ear-splitting screech of tearing metal and toss the bits into a scrap pile, as seen below.
The old AJC, mid-dismantling.
When the entire press is salvaged, it's expected to yield a half-million tons shitload of scrap metal.
Scraps from the old AJC press
Anyway, back to the original point of this post, which was… lemme think now… oh, yes, the cost to the city! The gift of a free building is a no-brainer opportunity for the city to consolidate departments such as Watershed Management that now rent space in private offices. In fact, the water department alone is expected to claim the top four floors of the Marietta Street building — where it will instead pay rent to the city. Winning!

However, to ready the building for continued occupancy won't be cheap. Presented before the Council's Finance Exec Committee today were bills to authorize the spending of: $1.3 million to set up a telephone and IT infrastructure; $120,000 for janitorial services; $54,000 for service to the elevators; $150,000 for security services; $200,000 for miscellaneous repairs; and, finally, $750,000 to hire someone to actually move the relocating departments into their new offices. If the costs are approved, Watershed is expected to be in its new home by the end of July.

Now, some of these funds are coming out of the Watershed budget, which is paid for by our water bills and is separate from the city's general fund, but the total outlay to rehab, occupy and operate the old AJC is estimated at about $3.7 million for the current fiscal year — which, you may recall, ends June 30. Going forward, the new property is expected to cost the city just shy of $4 million annually.

I'd heard that a couple of Council members expressed reservations at the price tag, but no one expects the group as a whole to balk at the deal. But we'll see; the next full Council meeting is April 18.

One last thing. I'd like to know what went on in this room:

The pina colada room?
  • Jeoff Davis
  • The pina colada room?

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