Our new home: Miami Herald’s Doral headquarters reflects a modern reality

The Miami Herald has built itself a state-of-the-art newsroom in the heart of Doral

06/04/2013 6:56 PM

06/07/2013 1:56 PM

When the Miami Herald’s downtown headquarters opened in March 1963, the boxy beacon on the bay gave the city’s growing skyline a unique new landmark.

But 12 miles west in Doral, there wasn’t much of anything — other than the golf resort and miles of swampland. The Palmetto Expressway was just 2 years old.

A half-century later, Doral is an economic, media and government hub. It’s home to Carnival Cruise Lines, Ryder, Perry Ellis International, CBS4, Univision 23, Miami-Dade County Police, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Southern Command. And beginning last month, the Miami Herald Media Company, with its approximately 650-person workforce.

The Herald’s offices are housed in a two-story, 160,000-square-foot building that served as the former center for the U.S. Southern Command, and its new 119,000-square-foot printing plant is on land purchased next door. The company is using 110,000 square feet of office space.

“We are perfectly positioned for the present and the future,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald. “We have a state-of-the-art newsroom for the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald and a new printing plant that will keep us in the forefront of providing news.”

Back east, the Biscayne Bay location is expected to be leveled soon. The building served as the creative base for journalistic luminaries like Gene Miller, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Edwin Pope, Edna Buchanan and Leonard Pitts Jr., as well as publishing innovators like Alvah Chapman and Roberto Suarez, a former company president and the founder and publisher of el Nuevo Herald.

Nineteen of the Herald’s 20 Pulitzer Prizes were won during the 50 years at One Herald Plaza. International leaders, entertainment celebrities and star athletes have all passed through the doors, a testament to the paper’s far-reaching influence. The building withstood Hurricane Andrew, race riots and the suicide of a troubled county commissioner. The location even survived the newspaper’s sale in 2006.

But when the Genting Group offered $236 million for the 14-acre waterfront property in 2011, the Herald’s downtown days were numbered. The Malaysian development mega-firm hopes to someday bring gambling to Miami, putting a massive casino at that location.

“They believed our site was special, and couldn’t be had anywhere else,” said David Landsberg, Miami Herald Media Co. president and publisher. “The price was extraordinary.”

After the sale to Genting was finalized, the hurried, wide-reaching search for a new home began. The company was open to almost anywhere in Miami-Dade, within these boundaries: west of U.S. 1, east of the Palmetto, south of the Gratigny and north of the Dolphin. It quickly became clear that moving to another center-city location would have been cost-prohibitive, Landsberg said.

While remaining in Miami’s urban core would have held symbolic significance, there just isn’t the same need now for a downtown footprint as there was in the 1960s, Landsberg said.

Back then, the bay wasn’t just a source of breathtaking views. It was also a vital mode of transportation. At that time, newsprint was delivered by barge, which would pull up to the building’s back dock.

Furthermore, Miami’s epicenter then was its downtown. There simply weren’t many suburbs. “Now, our readers are all over the place,” Landsberg said.

The paper’s new home is a reflection of that changed reality. Located between the turnpike and the Palmetto, the new headquarters — situated in the 3300 block of Northwest 91st Avenue — is easily accessible by every major highway south of I-595.

McClatchy ultimately decided to lease and renovate the former Southcom building for its business operations, 12 miles west of the Omni media and entertainment district.

The Herald also bought six adjacent acres to build the plant — home to three printing presses that weigh more than a million pounds each. The press foundation is three feet of solid concrete, filled with rebar, 30 feet wide and 400 feet long. To make the press pad, 55 cement trucks poured for six consecutive hours. The Herald is the only major city newspaper in the last four years to build a printing plant. The San Francisco Chronicle built a printing production plant of similar scale but the site did not include office space.

Operational for six weeks, the warehouse prints the daily Herald and el Nuevo Herald, along with editions of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News, among a total of 23 publications.

“This new printing plant is much more space efficient, and the work flow is more efficient,’’ said Mike Christoper, director of digital and printing operations. “The old plant was modified two or three times in 50 years.’’

The office building was designed specifically for the Defense Department in the late 1990s, crafted with military-grade specifics.

The new headquarters is roughly one-third the size of the Herald’s previous home, which will translate to a 50 percent savings in energy costs. Put simply, the company — which has gone through significant downsizing over the last decade — doesn’t need all that space anymore. It signed a 15-year lease in Doral, with options to stay longer.

The renovated office building has been transformed into a work space befitting a 21st century news operation. Although brimming with nostalgia, One Herald Plaza had become a decaying relic. The former Southcom was gutted and rebuilt. It’s large enough to fit nearly the entire company on the second floor. The new Southcom building is now a Herald neighbor.

The expansive newsroom is an open, interlocking grid of desks and offices, creating a synergistic flow from department to department. Even editors, once tucked away in offices, are part of the bullpen.

And in the middle of the room: the Continuous News Desk, a round-the-clock operation that sets the agenda for all the ways that Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald readers get their news — print, online and mobile.

Dusty, ragged furniture has been replaced with trendy new chairs and desks. A new video studio will be equipped with cameras to capture live interviews from inside the newsroom and large radio studios will house WLRN-Miami Herald News, which also moved its operations from One Herald Plaza.

The station is the nation’s only public radio newsroom embedded in a major daily paper.

The office’s design reflects the industry’s changing dynamic.

“I feel like the environment will be a cultural change for us,” Landsberg said. “I think it will really facilitate how we work together as a team.”

Roughly 25 percent of the company’s revenues come from its digital enterprise. The print editions of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald reach 1.3 million people each week; 8.3 million readers visit both news websites and Miami.com and MomsMiami.com each month.

Compared to other Florida newspapers, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald deliver the largest audience in Florida in print and online. Locally, the company offers the largest local media reach in South Florida, with 1.5 million adults reading its content in print and online each week.

But like other newspapers across the nation, the declining number of print subscribers has created a problem: The online readers don’t generate the kind of revenues that the print readers do.

“In the worst depths of the recession, we were never in danger of losing money,” Landsberg said. “Not for any one of those years. That says a lot about how we reacted as a media company. Going forward, we’re really bullish about the two [print and online] together.”

In the coming months, Landsberg said, both the Herald’s print edition and its website will undergo facelifts. The increased color capability will lead to changes in the paper’s layout, while MiamiHerald.com will undergo a redesign next year along with elNuevoHerald.com.

It will cap a transformative 12 months for a company that celebrates its 110th anniversary in September. These changes are seen by most as a necessity, but that doesn’t make them easy.

The Herald building wasn’t just a place to work. It was where award-winning journalists made lifelong friendships. It wasn’t just an office for Managing Editor Rick Hirsch, but also where he hunkered down as Hurricane Andrew leveled his family’s South Miami-Dade home.

And it wasn’t just where Tom Fiedler, now the dean of Boston University’s journalism school, broke the story about presidential candidate Gary Hart’s career-wrecking affair.

During his three decades at the Herald, which saw stints as reporter, department head and ultimately executive editor, Fiedler would swim laps between the MacArthur and Venetian causeways with famed newsman Gene Miller.

“It is a breathtakingly beautiful location,” Fiedler said. “Maybe it’s a good thing that there will be a rebirth to that building. I can’t help but feel like something will be missing.”

Dave Wilson, the Herald’s senior editor of business and administration, who played an integral role in executing the move, sees things differently.

“Based on the feedback I’ve heard from staff in just a few days and weeks in the new office, the energy is very positive,” Wilson said. “Several have said they feel reborn in the new space. That’s way above any expectations I had for a positive reaction. This is a good change for us all around.”

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