PORT ST. LUCIE — Treasure Coast Newspapers’ production facility off Interstate 95 and St. Lucie West Boulevard is closing this week, but readers shouldn’t notice a difference, as no changes in delivery or quality are expected. foreseen.

The Indian River Press Journal, St. Lucie News Tribune and Stuart News will go to print in Deerfield Beach beginning Jan. 24 for Jan. 25 editions and beyond, said Adam L. Neal, editor of Treasure Coast Newspapers. and TCPalm.com.

The 124,000 square foot building at 760 NW Enterprise Drive, owned by Treasure Coast Newspapers and its parent company Gannett, is set to go up for sale.

The Treasure Coast Newspapers print shop is seen in an aerial photo taken by a drone Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Port St. Lucie.

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Local news and advertising services are not affected, nor are newspaper offices in downtown Vero Beach and downtown Stuart. Some journalists will continue to work out of the Port St. Lucie press room within the print shop after production closes until the building is sold.

“We are all sad to see this incredible facility close, especially for the dedicated press workers who skillfully produced the papers for our readers every night,” Neal said. “But this is yet another evolution of our newspapers, one that many others across the country have experienced, as more and more consumers turn to digital platforms for local news.”

The Newsroom’s mission, he said, remains consistent, to provide hard-hitting and inspirational local news and information to the Treasure Coast.

“It’s at the heart of what we do. It doesn’t change no matter where the newspaper is printed,” Neal added. “We have seen exponential growth in our digital subscribers and audience, and digital platforms offer incredible opportunities for news organizations to tell stories in different ways. We must continue to evolve with the demands of the public.

Newspaper operator Tom Butts works printing the inside pages of the Naples Daily News at the Treasure Coast newspaper production facility, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucie.  Butts began his career in the press 33 years ago, in 1988, at the Vero Beach Press Journal, now Indian River Press Journal.

The closure of the Port St. Lucie plant will affect 46 full-time and 27 part-time press and packaging employees. Gannett will provide resources to these employees and encourage them to seek employment opportunities at other Gannett printing facilities, Bernie Szachara, president of Gannett US Publishing Operations, said in a statement.

Media owners have cut costs from large buildings and underutilized print shops to invest in local journalism and growth opportunities, especially on digital. Production partnerships have become the norm in the news industry, with newspaper owners contracting with each other to print multiple titles at a single regional facility, according to Szachara.

These commercial partnerships are not associated with and do not affect the independence of the local editorial staff.

The beginnings of the factory are a “great moment”

Cincinnati-based EW Scripps Co., then owner of Stuart News and Port St. Lucie News in southern St. Lucie County, purchased the Press Journal and its press from the Schumann family in 1996. Then it purchased the Fort Pierce Tribune from Freedom of Communication in 2000.

In 2015, Scripps acquired Milwaukee-based media company Journal Communications and spun off its newspaper division to a separate company, Journal Media Group. A year later, Gannett acquired Journal Media Group, including Treasure Coast Newspapers and its printing press.

The 17-acre St. Lucie West Commerce Park printing and packaging plant opened in 2004, just weeks before Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne tore through the Treasure Coast.

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Prior to opening, three printing plants in Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties produced the daily newspaper for their respective counties.

Ownership of the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing company is cleared for the establishment of the foundation on April 2, 2003 in Port St. Lucie.

In the spring of 2003, crews broke ground on the $45 million facility which included two of the world’s most advanced newspaper printing presses, both designed and built by MAN Roland of Germany. The new presses improve the printing, quality and color of newspapers. The result was a clearer, brighter product.

The establishment printed many other daily and weekly publications throughout Florida during its 17-year history.

For Thomas E. Weber, Jr., president and publisher of Treasure Coast Newspapers until his retirement in 2009, the opening of the new press facility was a “huge moment”, he said.

“To many at the newspaper, this represented success and a long-standing effort to bring together the Treasure Coast logs from Jupiter to Sebastian,” Weber said. “It allowed us to have all of our printing in one place and gave us everything we needed to buy a press that was fast enough to give us competitive lead times.

Material handler Tom Morrison unrolls a 1,500 pound roll of paper onto a carrier plate to guide it to the printing press in 2005 at the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant in Port St. Lucie.

Becky Freeman, former managing director of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, led the team responsible for the planning and construction of the new facility. Team members included Mike O’Leary, then Director of Operations; Lynn Ferraro, night production and quality manager; and David Buckey, former Chief Financial Officer.

Once assembled, up to 70,000 copies of a 56-page newspaper could be printed in one hour on each of two presses.

At the time, paid circulation was pushing toward 150,000 newspapers, Weber noted, making it the sixth largest newspaper in Florida.

“We were proud of it. The new factory has become a tangible symbol of the work of over 600 employees,” he said. “And it was also a reflection of the efforts of astute former leaders like John Schumann, publisher of the Press Journal, and Ernie Lyons, my predecessor, and former chairman and editor of Stuart News.”

Unforgettable opening

The commissioning of the plant was to be carried out in planned stages. But Hurricane Frances, a Category 2 hurricane that made landfall on September 5, 2004, shut down print shops in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart. The new factory had electricity, but the equipment had not been fully tested.

As a result, an eight-week transition plan was reduced to one day.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne, a Category 3 storm, hit the area again.

The front page of Treasure Coast newspapers on September 5, 2004, after Hurricane Frances hit the Treasure Coast directly.

Mike O’Leary, who retired in 2020 as Gannett’s regional manager and general manager of publishing services, recalled working in the new factory during both storms, with a production crew and members of the editorial and commercial divisions.

“Even though it was designed and built to hurricane codes for Miami-Dade County, it turned out that there were still aspects of the building that were unsuitable for the strength of the storms” , O’Leary said. “It was definitely a surprise and it posed an additional challenge.”

Yet, through teamwork and cooperation, he said, the crews kept working.

“The building since 2004, has operated at the highest levels for many, many years, achieving company-wide benchmarks and print quality that rivaled any other location in the country,” O said. ‘Leary. “It’s so important to recognize the accomplishments of the production staff…needed to get it started in the first place and then sustain it over the years.”

Mailroom Supervisor Mike Helm (left) talks to Vivian Simmons, Print Coordinator and Production Administrator, at the Treasure Coast newspaper production facility, Friday, January 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucia.  Helm and Simmons are part of a team of 46 full-time and 27 part-time press and packaging workers who will produce the last newspaper at the site on Jan. 23, when production moves to Deerfield Beach.  The factory opened in 2005 and many employees have spent decades printing Treasure Coast newspapers at previous sites.

Mark Tomasik, who was editor of Treasure Coast Newspapers from 2002 to 2016, agreed.

‘It was such a dynamic time to be a journalist on the Treasure Coast and that dynamism was symbolized by this print shop,’ he said.

Editorial and production staff weathering storms Frances and Jeanne at the new factory were forced to work in cramped quarters but never stopped producing stories.

“We didn’t always publish in print, but we published,” Tomasik recalls. “And that’s when we realized the power of the Internet and digital. Because we were able to continue to produce news to the nearest second.”

And while the factory may become a bygone symbol of this vibrant era, “that’s going away doesn’t mean the organization is no longer vibrant,” he said.

“I’m proud that this newsroom is positioned to continue to grow, to continue to excel, to continue to serve this market,” he said. “It just won’t be with a big print shop.”

Melissa E. Holsman is a legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is the editor and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast. Contact her at [email protected]