WarnerMedia plans to sell off its venerable CNN Center, the longtime hub of its flagship cable-news network, as more media companies look to divest long-held real estate assets at a moment when they are navigating through a challenging operating environment.
In a note sent to Atlanta staffers Monday, WarnerMedia Chief Financial Officer Pascal Desroches said the company had been considering what to do with its Atlanta CNN hub even before it was acquired by AT&T in 2018, but put those discussions on hold. “Now that we’ve had time to further evaluate, we’ve concluded that the best course of action is to sell the CNN Center.”
Even so, some employees will likely remain at those offices for some time. A person familiar with the matter indicated the company could lease the facility back from any buyer for a period of five years.
Other large media conglomerates have worked to find new ways to monetize properties with which they have been identified for years. ViacomCBS has put Black Rock, a New York facility that has served as the headquarters of the CBS TV network since the 1960s, on the block. CBS in 2018 sold its venerable Television City production facility in a bid to raise funds it could subsequently invest in making more content for streaming-video audiences. Fox Corporation has sought to leverage its ownership of its 1.8 million square feet of building space that housed the fabled 20th Century Fox film studio.
“Downtown Atlanta has seen great investment and is quickly becoming an entertainment destination,” Desroches said. “The CNN Center is of great value to a third party that specializes in such developments.”
But the facility also holds much sentimental value and is a symbol of the company’s history. CNN, which launched in 1980 from a former country club on the city’s Techwood Drive, moved into the building seven years later. Before the news operation arrived, the facility housed an ice skating rink, a movie theater and even an indoor amusement park inspired by the creations of Sid & Marty Krofft.
The fate of CNN’s Atlanta operations has been a question mark in recent years. CNN in 2014 moved many of its Atlanta-based anchors and news staffers to Washington D.C., and New York. The company’s HLN cable network continues to hold forth from the facility, as do some of the operations related to CNN Newsource, a service for affiliates and stations, and CNN en Espanol and CNN International.
The WarnerMedia executive said the company intended to maintain a presence in the southern city. “This move in no way should suggest that WarnerMedia is less committed to Atlanta. Following the sale of the CNN Center, we plan to centralize most of our employees on the Techwood campus. This process will take several years, so we don’t expect any immediate changes for employees working at the CNN Center,” Desroches said. “Similar to Hudson Yards in Manhattan and the announcement of new office space in Los Angeles at Ivy Station, we feel the long-term benefit of being in one location will be a more collaborative workforce.”
Protesters in late May climbed on and vandalized a giant red CNN logo outside the building. CNN had the sign repaired within days.