Media Watch

It's the perfect spot for a Mattress Firm

Lee Enterprises, not-yet-erstwhile owners of the Arizona Daily Star, recently trimmed the workforce at the Tucson daily by about 20 employees. As major balloon payments on the company's bankruptcy debt loom, Lee has already relieved itself of some of its holdings, including real estate sales put into place to bring in cash for locations that once housed these archaic things called newspapers.

Locally, Lee is entrenched in this baffling Joint Operating Agreement with Gannett Publishing, itself an archaic collaboration of sales revenue and profit that currently means Gannett can host a website with archived content of the Tucson Citizen and split half of the other paper's profit toil. A margin that, not surprisingly, has been dwindling by the year.

As part of that JOA, the so-called Star Publishing Company and Citizen Publishing Company hold the ownership on a nice-sized piece of property at the corner of Irvington and Park that Pima County assessor records value a tad north of $6 million. That's a lot of Commercial 1 zoned property with some good intersection access.

But if Lee were to try to get Gannett on board to sell with plans to split the difference, all, of course, prior to Lee being purchased by some other crazy conglomerate that thinks the concept of a newspaper business is still a good idea, it might be worth creating a list of potential buying prospects.

In Tucson, the options on that front could be limited, but given the city's recent makeup, some possibilities could certainly present themselves.

Mattress Firm might be chomping at the bit for that location. Well, any location. In this case, there are only two Mattress Firms—one on Valencia, the other at the Spectrum at Irvington and the freeway—in the general vicinity, and given the proximity of the nearly 30 locations in the Tucson area at the moment, it seems the Park and Irvington corridor is clearly underrepresented.

The payday loan model continues to thrive in Tucson, where upwards of 160 outlets are offering their services to charge folks in need of money exorbitant interest rates. While there are only about seven such locations within a mile of the Star's offices, perhaps it's time to expand to a much larger venue for payday superstore purposes.

Education is important, and some prospective buyers might see opportunities on that front. BASIS only has three locations in the Tucson area. That seems paltry, considering the expansion from a single-level campus near Speedway and Alvernon to the multi-story superstructures that have been erected within the last few years. The southside is ready for charter school superiority.

If that doesn't fly, perhaps Grand Canyon University could snag the land for an improved Tucson location, although the City Council and UA would likely join forces to nix that idea, then purchase the space for more student housing.

A possible darkhorse candidate could be the folks from Colorado City. The Arizona Daily Star already has compound-like amenities, and since that whole food stamp fraud thing, maybe our neighbors from the northern-most part of the state are seeking out amenable digs.

Then again, maybe some Spirit Halloween stores see possibilities, or the folks who run The Slaughterhouse might look for expansion potential.

The situation at the Star isn't really that uncommon, and it's just one of a number of traditional media outlets now entrenched in locations far too large for the number of staff employed. Of the brick-and-mortar media outlets in town, KMSB and KTTU-TV is probably the most absurd. The gated building on Sixth Avenue has a massive array of satellites, plenty of studio and office space and possibly a half dozen people in the parking lot during peak hours.

Two radio conglomerates, iHeartMedia and Cumulus, have locations in Tucson that feel more like ghost towns. iHeartMedia, located at Fort Lowell and Oracle in the old Best Buy building, is a cavern of empty kiosks and office space, and sports sponsored studios that haven't been accessed by local talent with any regularity in years.

It might be worse at Cumulus, where as one former employer said, you could roll a bowling ball down the hallway in the middle of the day and never have concern about it being a safety hazard.

This is not to suggest Lee or any other of these behemoths are going to part with property any time soon, but it does present a certain symbolism in changing times. The companies have effectively streamlined staff for much of the last decade, yet unnecessary, bulky, cumbersome brick and mortar—little more than vacuous museums for a bygone era—still manages to survive.

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