Treasure Coast Newspapers’ printing plant in Port St. Lucie to close Jan. 23

·7 min read

PORT ST. LUCIE — The production facility for Treasure Coast Newspapers off Interstate 95 and St. Lucie West Boulevard is closing this week, but readers shouldn’t notice a difference, as no change in delivery or quality is expected.

The Indian River Press Journal, St. Lucie News Tribune and Stuart News will be printed in Deerfield Beach starting Jan. 24 for the Jan. 25 editions and beyond, said Adam L. Neal, executive editor of Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com.

The 124,000-square-foot building at 760 N.W. Enterprise Drive, which is owned by Treasure Coast Newspapers and its parent company Gannett, is expected to be put up for sale.

The Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant is seen in a drone aerial photo Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Port St. Lucie.
The Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant is seen in a drone aerial photo Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Port St. Lucie.

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The local news and advertising departments are not impacted, nor are the newspaper offices in downtown Vero Beach and downtown Stuart. Some journalists will continue to work out of the Port St. Lucie newsroom within the printing facility after the production closure until the building is sold.

“We are all sad to see this amazing facility close, especially for the dedicated press workers who skillfully produced the newspapers for our readers each and every night,” Neal said. “But this is yet another evolution of our newspapers, one that many others throughout the country have experienced, as more consumers turn to digital platforms for local news.”

The newsroom’s mission, he said, remains consistent, to provide impactful and inciteful local news and information to the Treasure Coast.

“It’s at the core of what we do. That’s not changing, regardless of where the newspaper is printed,” added Neal. “We have seen exponential growth in our digital subscribers and audience, and digital platforms provide news organizations incredible opportunities to tell stories in different ways. We must continue to evolve with audience demands.”

Press operator Tom Butts works the printing of inside pages for the Naples Daily News at Treasure Coast Newspaper’s production facility Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucie. Butts began his newspaper career 33 years ago in 1988 at the Vero Beach Press Journal, now the Indian River Press Journal.
Press operator Tom Butts works the printing of inside pages for the Naples Daily News at Treasure Coast Newspaper’s production facility Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucie. Butts began his newspaper career 33 years ago in 1988 at the Vero Beach Press Journal, now the Indian River Press Journal.

The Port St. Lucie plant’s closure will impact 46 fulltime and 27 part-time press and packaging employees. Gannett will provide resources to these employees and encourage them to seek employment opportunities at other Gannett printing facilities, Bernie Szachara, president of Gannett US Publishing Operations, said in a statement.

Media owners cut costs on large, underutilized buildings and printing facilities to invest in local journalism and growth opportunities – especially on digital. Production partnerships have become standard in the news industry, with newspaper owners contracting with each other to print multiple titles at one regional facility, according to Szachara.

These business partnerships are not associated with nor do they have impact on the local newsroom’s independence.

Plant debut a ‘great moment’

Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Co., then owner of the Stuart News and Port St. Lucie News in southern St. Lucie County, purchased the Press Journal and its press from the Schumann family in 1996. Then, it bought the Fort Pierce Tribune from Freedom Communications in 2000.

In 2015, Scripps acquired Milwaukee-based media company Journal Communications and spun off its newspaper division to a separate company, Journal Media Group. A year later, Gannett acquired Journal Media Group, including Treasure Coast Newspapers and its printing press.

The 17-acre printing and packaging facility in St. Lucie West Commerce Park opened in 2004, just weeks before hurricanes Frances and Jeanne ravaged the Treasure Coast.

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Prior to the opening, three printing presses in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties produced the daily newspaper for its respective county.

The property for the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant is cleared in preparation for the foundation to be formed on April 2, 2003 in Port St. Lucie.
The property for the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant is cleared in preparation for the foundation to be formed on April 2, 2003 in Port St. Lucie.

In spring 2003, crews broke ground on the $45 million facility that featured two of the most advanced newspaper printing presses in the world, both engineered and built by MAN Roland of Germany. The new presses improved the printing, quality and color of the newspapers. The result was a clearer and brighter product.

The facility printed many other daily and weekly publications throughout Florida in its 17-year tenure.

For Thomas E. Weber, Jr., president and publisher at Treasure Coast Newspapers until he retired in 2009, opening the new press facility was a “great moment,” he said.

“For many at the newspaper, it represented the success and a long-time effort to bring the Treasure Coast Newspapers from Jupiter to Sebastian together,” Weber said. “Accomplishing that made it possible to consolidate all of our printing in one location and it gave us the where-with-all to buy a press that was fast enough to give us competitive deadlines.”

Tom Morrison, material handler, rolls out a 1,500 pound paper roll onto a transport plate to guide it to the printing press in 2005 at the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant in Port St. Lucie.
Tom Morrison, material handler, rolls out a 1,500 pound paper roll onto a transport plate to guide it to the printing press in 2005 at the Treasure Coast Newspapers printing plant in Port St. Lucie.

Becky Freeman, former general manager of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, led the team responsible for planning and constructing the new facility. Team members included Mike O'Leary, then-operations director; Lynn Ferraro, night production and quality manager; and David Buckey, former finance director.

Once assembled, up to 70,000 copies of a 56-page newspaper could be printed in one hour on each of the two presses.

At the time, paid circulation was pushing toward 150,000 newspapers, Weber noted, making it the sixth largest paper in Florida.

“We were proud of that. The new plant became a tangible symbol of the work of more than 600 employees,” he said. “And it was also a reflection of the efforts of astute earlier leaders like John Schumann, publisher of the Press Journal, and Ernie Lyons, my predecessor, and former president and editor of the Stuart News.”

Unforgettable opening

Bringing the plant online was to have been accomplished in planned stages. But Hurricane, Frances, a Category 2 hurricane that made landfall Sept. 5, 2004, shut down the printing plants in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart. The new plant had power, but the equipment had not been fully tested.

As a result, an eight-week transition plan was collapsed into a day.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne, a Category 3 storm, clobbered the area again.

The front page of Treasure Coast Newspapers on Sept. 5, 2004, after Hurricane Frances made a direct hit on the Treasure Coast.
The front page of Treasure Coast Newspapers on Sept. 5, 2004, after Hurricane Frances made a direct hit on the Treasure Coast.

Mike O’Leary, who retired in 2020 as regional director and general manager of Gannett publishing services, recalled working in the new plant during both storms, along with a production team and members from editorial and sales divisions.

“Even though it was designed and constructed to hurricane codes for Miami-Dade County, it turned out there were still aspects of the building that were not adequate for the strength of the storms,” O’Leary said. “That definitely was a surprise and it posed an extra challenge.”

Still, through teamwork and cooperation, he said, crews kept working.

“The building since 2004, performed at the very highest levels for many, many years, achieving benchmarks at the top of the company and printing quality that rivaled any place else in the country,” O’Leary said. “It's so important to recognize the accomplishments of the production staff ... required to get it going in the first place and then keep it going over the years.”

Mailroom supervisor Mike Helm (left) talks with Vivian Simmons, printing coordinator and production administrator, at Treasure Coast Newspaper’s production facility Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucie. Helm and Simmons are among a staff of 46 full-time and 27 part-time press and packaging employees who will produce the last newspaper at the facility on Jan. 23, when production moves to Deerfield Beach. The plant opened in 2005 and many employees have spent decades printing Treasure Coast Newspapers at previous locations.
Mailroom supervisor Mike Helm (left) talks with Vivian Simmons, printing coordinator and production administrator, at Treasure Coast Newspaper’s production facility Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Port St. Lucie. Helm and Simmons are among a staff of 46 full-time and 27 part-time press and packaging employees who will produce the last newspaper at the facility on Jan. 23, when production moves to Deerfield Beach. The plant opened in 2005 and many employees have spent decades printing Treasure Coast Newspapers at previous locations.

Mark Tomasik, who was editor of Treasure Coast Newspapers from 2002 to 2016, agreed.

“It was such a vibrant time to be a journalist on the Treasure Coast and that vibrancy was symbolized by that printing facility,” he said.

Editorial and production staff riding out storms Frances and Jeanne at the new plant were forced to work from cramped quarters but never stopped producing news stories.

“We didn't always publish in print, but we published,” Tomasik recalled. “And that was the moment that we realized the power of the internet and digital. Because we were able to continue to produce news to the second.”

And while the plant may become a past symbol of that vibrant time, “it's going away does not mean that the organization no longer is vibrant,” he said.

“I'm proud of the fact that this newsroom is positioned to continue to grow, continue to excel, continue to serve this market," he said. "It’s just not going to be with a big printing facility.”

Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is writer and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast. Reach her at melissa.holsman@tcpalm.com.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Treasure Coast Newspapers' printing shifts to Deerfield Beach Jan. 24

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