Chicago's Tribune Tower also on the market

Tribune Co. has hung “for sale” signs on two of its marquee properties: Times Mirror Square in downtown L.A., home of the Los Angeles Times, and Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago.

Tribune’s decision to “explore strategic options for maximizing the value” of those sizable chunks of real estate comes as the newspaper and TV station owner grapples with a sharp downturn in revenue and profits at its papers. Staffers at Tribune newspapers have been bracing for a new round of layoffs and buyouts.

The ax fell Wednesday at Tribune’s Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant papers, with the Sun confirming plans to shed about 100 jobs and the Courant planning to cut about 60 positions, the Associated Press reported. More cuts are expected in the L.A. Times newsroom by next month.

Sam Zell, Tribune’s new owner, has plenty of experience squeezing more coin out of real estate holdings.

The self-made Chi real estate mogul orchestrated a mammoth $39 billion sale of his Equity Office Properties Trust to Blackstone Group in early 2007, just prior to launching his bid for Tribune. Zell crafted a complex deal that took Tribune private under an employee ownership structure with him as majority owner and chairman-CEO.

Tribune said Wednesday that it had issued requests to leading real estate firms for proposals on development opportunities and occupancy strategies for the L.A. and Chi landmarks. Tribune said it intends to maintain “an ongoing ownership position” in both sites.

“Both Tribune Tower and Times Mirror Square are iconic structures, deeply intertwined with the history of this company,” Zell wrote in an email to Tribune employees. “But they are also underutilized, and as employee-owners, it’s in our best interests to maximize the value of all our assets.”

Earlier this year, Tribune sold the Tribune Studios lot that houses its KTLA-TV in Hollywood to private equity firm Hudson Capital for $125 million (Daily Variety, Feb. 1).

Times Mirror Square consists of five buildings with 750,000 square feet of usable space, anchored by the L.A. Times’ HQ at First and Broadway. The building has been the newspaper’s home since 1911. It was rebuilt that year after a building on the same site was blown up by union officials (killing 20 L.A. Times employees) amid a vicious labor dispute.

Tribune’s 40-story Tribune Tower HQ is an icon of Chi’s downtown Loop district. The neo-Gothic building known for the stones and artifacts embedded in its limestone exterior opened in 1925 after the company held a open $100,000 competition for building designs.

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