Gray TV’s potential move to suburb raises a ripple

Such a transaction is familiar turf for Deemer. Prior to becoming CEO of the nonprofit that oversees downtown marketing, security and clean-up, he worked on downtown business attraction and retention.

However, Deemer said the issue goes beyond the TV stations to broader concerns.

“We do not have at this point a regional policy that supports gaining and retaining jobs in the city,” Deemer said. “We need a strategy to grow and retain jobs downtown and in the city. It’s a question of equity, and it’s a question of environmental sustainability. I’m going to make this point repeatedly: We need a strategy.”

Economic development groups typically do not discuss prospects publicly unless there is a deal approved that the affected company is willing to announce. The practice also keeps the public in the dark about missed opportunities.

Gray may have a larger agenda than simply upgrading facilities, according to Dean Cummings, an associate professor of communications at Georgia Southern University who was a videographer in Cleveland for WKYC Channel 3 and his own company before earning a doctorate in communications.

Television broadcasters are embracing the hub model the same way that newspapers are, he said. Hubs are large, centralized offices where multiple designers, artists and copy editors are located, serving numerous publications rather than being in local newsrooms.

“That’s what I get from the Project VOSOT name for the project,” Cummings said, referring to the common television mantra of gathering video or sound over tape segments for TV news programs. He said the industry has sought to use improving technology to reduce overhead and put TV reporters on the road, with equipment in a backpack.

However, that also could reflect the drive of many businesses to reduce the size of office footprints after the pandemic boosted the popularity of working from home instead of the office, or going in for only part of the week.

A drawing that Gray has filed with the city of Independence shows that the proposed two-story building would contain 35,000 square feet of space. The three TV stations lease 50,000 square feet on the southern end of K&D’s Reserve Square complex at East 12th Street and Chester Avenue.

The location is regularly seen by viewers of Channel 19 News, which serves all three stations, as reporters often do stand-ups for live shots on the corner.

“I think moving out of downtown will hurt them in the public’s perception,” Price said. “They have a prominent site in the center of downtown that they seem to enjoy. It’s surprising they would look at moving to the suburbs. It’s surprising they didn’t even look at downtown options.”

Price said multiple parties are trying to woo the stations to stay downtown, and K&D plans to approach Gray’s upper management in Atlanta about the proposed move.

Gray is scheduled to present its case for a conditional zoning certificate at a Tuesday, Aug. 2, public hearing by the Independence Planning Commission. The 3.2-acre site on Rockside Woods Boulevard is zoned for interchange services, so installing an office building requires the Independence version of a variance.

If the commission OKs the change, it will need to be approved by Independence City Council to take effect. The suburb has granted the exemption in the past for the site between the Embassy Suites Hotel and Topgolf.

The move surfaces after Gray acquired the stations last December as part of a $2.7 billion deal for 17 television properties with Meredith Local Corp. of Des Moines, Iowa.

Gray serves 113 television markets across the county. The company clearly has a zest for real estate. Among other broadcasting activities, it is serving as the primary developer of a more than 100-acre mixed-use development that includes multiple film and television studios.

Cummings suggested that the stations remained in Reserve Square because prior owners did not have the funds to invest in an expensive building project.

Matt Moran, general manager for Gray in Cleveland, has declined to comment on the potential move and the measure pending before the suburb’s city government.