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The Baltimore Sun, Tribune Publishing sued by Capital Gazette landlord for more than $570,000

The company that owns the building formerly occupied by the Capital Gazette newspaper group is suing The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing for breach of rental contract, following the office’s closure during the coronavirus pandemic last summer.

Real estate firm Admiral Cochrane LLC filed the lawsuit April 6 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, online court records show. Tribune Publishing is the parent company of The Baltimore Sun, which owns the Capital Gazette newspapers and several other community publications under the Baltimore Sun Media corporate umbrella. Tribune Publishing is a guarantor on the Capital Gazette’s lease.

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Admiral Cochrane, an affiliate of Grander Capital Partners, is seeking $72,530.95 in missed rent payments from November 2020 to April 2021, plus $499,385.53 in future rent owed through the end of the lease in 2024, in addition to all costs, legal fees and attorney’s fees resulting from the Capital Gazette’s default, according to a copy of the complaint.

The landlord terminated the lease agreement with The Sun and Tribune on April 2 for its failure to adhere to the terms of the contract “without any lawful justification or excuse,” making them liable for accelerated rent through the end of the lease term.

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A representative from The Baltimore Sun forwarded a reporter to Tribune for comment. Tribune spokesman Max Reinsdorf declined to comment.

This is the latest lawsuit filed over the past year against Tribune Publishing or its papers over missed rent payments. Last June, the Orlando Sentinel’s landlord sued that newspaper for $370,000 in rent, plus interest and legal expenses. Months later, the Orlando Sentinel’s newsroom closed for good.

In January, the Chicago Tribune’s landlord at its Prudential Plaza office sued Tribune for $4.8 million in unpaid rent, which it claimed Tribune had not paid since March 2020. The suit alleges Tribune’s letter of credit — cash reserves that can be used to cover expenses such as missed rent payments — ran out of funds.

Jeffrey M. Lichtstein, a partner at the Rosenberg Martin Greenberg legal firm in Baltimore representing the real estate company, said Tribune’s breach of lease was unjustified given that the state of Maryland classified members of the press as essential workers over the pandemic and never forced the workplaces to close.

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“Tenants oftentimes believe if they fail to pay rent it’ll dissuade a landlord from taking the time to do a money judgment and pursue remedies in court, but here, the landlord has no other options,” Lichtstein said. “Unfortunately, even with a pandemic, landlords still incur substantial costs.”

Tribune, like the rest of the newspaper industry, struggled during the public health crisis as businesses shut down and advertising waned.

Still the company reported a cash balance of nearly $100 million at the end of 2020, an increase of $36.7 million from the year prior, according to Tribune’s financial statements. Part of that gain was fueled by a 14.5% decrease in operating costs, including $60 million of lease and pension obligations.

In September, The Chesapeake Guild — composed of journalists from the Capital Gazette, the Carroll County Times, The Aegis and several other Baltimore Sun Media weeklies — staged a rally condemning Tribune’s decision to close their offices in Annapolis and Westminster. The Annapolis staff said the new office represented a space of healing for them as they grappled with trauma related to the mass shooting in their newsroom in June 2018 and its aftermath.

About a year after the attack, the Capital journalists moved into the new office, which offered new safety features and security and included displays honoring their slain colleagues.

They occupied a portion of the second floor of the new office building, according to a copy of the complaint.

But as the coronavirus pandemic swept into the United States, journalists and other office staff across Tribune transitioned to mostly remote work in March 2020 for health reasons. Then, in an email to employees in August, Baltimore Sun publisher and editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas announced the closure of the offices in Annapolis and Westminster in light of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the company remained committed to “in-depth community coverage.”

Several other Tribune-owned newsrooms closed last year, including the Orlando Sentinel, the New York Daily News and The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Nearly all Baltimore Sun Media journalists continue to work remotely. The company has said staff from its sister newspapers, including the Capital Gazette, will have a place to work at The Sun’s offices and plant in South Baltimore’s Port Covington after the pandemic subsides.

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