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Tribune Co. looks for partner to develop Port Covington parcels

The owner of The Baltimore Sun wants to find partners to develop about 37 acres of unused land next to the newspaper's printing plant in Port Covington.

The plans are part of a broader push by Tribune Company to make more money from its real estate.

Earlier this month, Tribune announced plans to sell the former Columbia Flier building to Howard County for $2.8 million. It also is working to sell property in Bel Air and in Greenwood Village, Colorado, according to financial statements. Last year, it sold $10 million worth of real estate.

Tribune CEO Peter Liguori said last week the company has not maximized its real estate holdings, noting the potential value of land close to the Los Angeles Times and the Tribune Tower in Chicago. The company did not even have a list of all its properties when he took the helm in 2013, he said.

“I don’t feel that the group had a firm handle on not only how much real estate we had, but also how prime that real estate was,” Liguori said at an investor conference in New York on May 15. “There’s some great sites which are ripe for co-development and potential monetization."

Tribune Real Estate Holdings started marketing two Port Covington parcels at 300 East Cromwell Street for joint venture development on Monday, said Jonathan Beard, a senior vice president at commercial real estate services firm CBRE. The Baltimore Sun printing plant will remain in operation where it is, he added.

Representatives for Tribune also met recently with the city’s Planning Department about the possibility of subdividing the property, which totals almost 60 acres, planner Eric Tiso said.

A Tribune official referred questions about the property to Beard.

Tribune doesn't have a plan for development of the property, Beard said. The offering brochure discusses the possibility of industrial development, a hotel, or multi-family units, noting the nearby headquarters of Under Armour, which expects to expand and could generate demand for housing for its employees. The land is also close to the cruise ship terminal.

The property is currently zoned for industrial use, but Tribune asked the city about the possibility of changing the designation, according to the offering brochure.

“We don’t ultimately know what will happen,” he said. “The Tribune wants us to make sure that we thoroughly market the property to as many people as possible. They have no predisposed ideas about who they’re going to joint venture (with).”

Tribune's Port Covington land, which includes a parking lot, sits across the street from a group of recently sold waterfront properties, which once were eyed for mixed use development and are held by limited liability companies that share a representative and mailing address.

The new owners of those parcels, which together total nearly 71 acres, have not spoken publicly about their plans, but Planning Department officials said last month they had been approached about a locating a distillery on one of the properties.

Tribune plans to spin off its newspaper companies, which include The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, as a separate company this summer. All the real estate, however, will remain with Tribune.

Tribune officials have faced criticism from U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California and others who have questioned whether the spinoff would put newspaper finances at risk by requiring the newly established company to borrow money to pay a cash dividend to the parent and give up real estate long associated with the newspapers. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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