Mercury News Comes Back Downtown with Sweet Deal

The Mercury News will return to downtown San Jose, the newspaper announced Thursday in a deliciously meta article of self-praise.

Veteran reporter Pete Carey—a Pulitzer-prize winning local media legend—was given the unfortunate task of rounding up a swath of city leaders to celebrate the paper's relocation to 4 N. Second St.

"It's great to have the Mercury News back downtown where it started," Mayor Chuck Reed told the newspaper. "It was an anchor presence for a very long time and it was a blow to downtown when they picked up and moved off Santa Clara Street to Brokaw Road." Reed would have to take Tom McEnery’s word on that, since he was 19 and in the U.S. Air Force Academy at the time.

But he wasn't finished. Reed also told the Mercury News, "It's important to have one of the nation's best newspapers downtown."

What a gem of a quote.  The mayor arguably owes a sizable debt to the paper's consistent backing of his administration, and his brother-in-law, Bob Ingle, was the newspaper’s longtime executive editor.

Matt Mahood, CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce, called the move "fantastic." City economic development director Kim Walesh compared the move to downtown landing "a big fish." And media analyst Ken Doctor diagnosed the paper as potentially missing out on scoops for years because the paper's current location isn't easily accessible.

But none of the adulation (or excuses) should be the real takeaway from this story.

The real story is how Councilman Sam Liccardo—endorsed by the Merc to succeed Reed—helped the paper secure an $864,000 discount on parking. The deal makes 160 of the company's 200 parking spaces free for the next four years and half-off the fifth year.

That's a damn good deal. Not on the level of Twitter, but good.

Liccardo launched the parking incentive a few years ago to lure more business to downtown. And it's working. But the deal offered to the Merc went above and beyond offers extended to other businesses, which is why it required City Council approval.

As an example of how far local leaders bent over backwards, San Jose Inside's parent company, Metro, admittedly one of the greatest news weeklies in all the South Bay, recently invested in a building downtown. To use the daily's preferred parlance, this newspaper is in the final stages of moving to 380 S. First Street. Metro has been a 29-year mainstay in downtown and its new office is about 12 percent the size of the 33,186 square feet the Merc will occupy at its two floors of space at Legacy Civic Towers.

This is a side-by-side comparison of the standard deal for parking and what the Mercury News (far right) is getting.

This is a side-by-side comparison of the standard deal for parking and what the Mercury News (far right) is getting.

Metro did not receive a special vote from the council to receive a greater discount than other downtown businesses. Rather, Metro was given a more standard deal through the parking program—two years of free parking for 25 employees and years three and four are half price, according to company ownership that said it was too busy to go on the record.

Andrew Boone, director of nonprofit I Walk, I Bike, I Vote, calls the Merc's parking deal bad for the city, but not because it's a potential conflict of interest for a newspaper to praise itself while getting nearly a million dollar discount on parking from the same people it's supposed to monitor. No, Boone's concerned that the parking spots actually disincentives a move toward sustainability.

"San Jose shouldn't be trying to attract businesses downtown by making it cheaper to drive there, but by improving conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit so that residents don't need to drive downtown to get to work," he said.

Silicon Valley Business Journal reporter Nate Donato-Weinstein first broke the story of the Merc's move in February. In an article today, he notes a trend amongst media companies cashing in on their land holdings. The asking price for the Merc's old digs off of Brokaw Road, Donato-Weinstein says, is $1.95 a square foot.

The newspaper started in downtown but moved to north San Jose in 1967 to expand operations and add several new printing presses. Much of the 320,000-square-foot site has been unused over the years after layoffs and production moved to the East Bay as parent company Bay Area News Group (BANG) consolidated papers.

“We wound up with a facility here that is much larger than we need,” BANG Publisher Mac Tully told San Jose Inside in April. The company had plenty of room in its back parking lot to round up, store and recycle its competitors’ newsracks until it was caught red-handed in 2012.

The newspaper should now be a much leaner operation, and having the lone daily newspaper located downtown is certainly a good thing. But having Liccardo quoted in a story about the newspaper itself, saying there's "a lot to celebrate," when he's been complimented in a bevy of stories that have nothing to do with the mayor's race, it all just comes off a bit incestuous.

So, in closing, welcome back Mercury News. Let's try to keep it cool. Real cool.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

11 Comments

  1. So in exchange for their endorsement Liccardo, Reed Et al. made a gift of nearly 1 million taxpayer dollars to the Mercury News. The relationship between this city council is just a little too chummy. I would hope the next city council has the foritude to rescind this gift and send the Mercury News packing. Chuck Reed said:

    “But he wasn’t finished. Reed also told the Mercury News, “It’s important to have one of the nation’s best newspapers downtown.”

    If the paper, as he says, is “one of the nation’s best newspapers” they should no problem finding digs elsewhere in San Jose and most of should have no problem paying for it.

    You taxpayer dollars and Sam Liccardo at work San Jose remember this when you vote in November.

  2. For those interested in the “Downtown Parking Incentives Program” please view documents pertaining to (what I believe) is a generous act of providing for “corporate welfare.”

    Rules & Open Government Committee Agenda for (03.12.14);

    http://sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27930

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27925

    City Council Agenda (03.18.14)

    http://sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27761

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/2300

    There are some questions I would ask the San José Mercury News (herein Merc) to respond to, in print.

    When the Merc “rounds-up” competitor’s news-racks, does the Merc gain revenue from this activity directly; through selling the metal news-racks to local metal recycle businesses or just the metal recycle businesses recommended by others, yet to be determined?

    Does the Merc “sell” their services to politicians, PACs, etcetera via “Journalistic columns” written to support a Mayoral candidate several years before the mayoral Primary?

    Here are some questions for the San José City Council that also should be responded to in print.

    Is the San José City Council acting as an Agent and or Principal for “Zipcar?” Refer to the Memorandum dated (03.18.14), page (2).

    Has the debt service for the Fourth Street garage exceeded its revenue such that the General FUND is now being used to pay a portion of the debt service of this Redevelopment Agency Project?

    With all the taxpayer monies spent on the Downtown, why aren’t both “Parking garages” filled to capacity?

    To Mayor Reed, specifically, concerning your statement, “It’s important to have one of the nation’s best newspapers downtown” Please respond, publically, as to your “rating system” for newspapers.

    David S. Wall

  3. This paper sucks, almost a buck a day for news I can get online. What a joke! This paper can be found at city hall bathrooms because most council members wipe with it. Im sorry they write to it. AND it gets printed.

  4. reed said, “It’s important to have one of the nation’s best newspapers downtown.”

    Why is it so hard for this man to tell the truth? Reminds me of the $650 million dollar quote. Oh, I forgot, I think his brother-in-law is/was the merc’s editor in chief. OR…is it more Kool-aide BS he is spinning so the voters will believe all the hype they print about licarrdo as they push to get him elected. Did you all know that the merc has their own office on the first floor of City Hall? Cozy, isn’t it? I will be so glad when reed is out of office. He is a sad little, gulp, human.

  5. Call me an idealist, but I’d love to hear at least lip service from either LIccardo or the Merc on how a downtown location makes it possible for people who want to walk, bike or take transit to the office. The light rail runs N/S in front of their new office, the highest service bus line runs E/W a block away, Caltrain is a mile away with a free shuttle and there are fabulously wide bike lanes that Liccardo fought for criss-crossing the whole area.

    Doesn’t that merit at least a passing mention, especially as leaders are (were) calling for increases in the sales tax for transit? Or despite all its big city aspirations is San Jose still a suburban-minded, overgrown small town.

    As someone who takes Caltrain every day to downtown San Jose and rides a bike to my office by the airport I know how easy it is to get around Central San Jose without driving. It’s a shame the focus on the Merc’s move downtown is, like so much of our area’s focus, overshadowed by something as parochial as parking.

  6. Sam gets his council buddies to authorize double-wide Liccardo lanes on main streets intoi and out of DTSJ, which are ghost lanes based oin their non-use; then gives away 200 parking spaces to his friends so they can drive into congested DTSJ. The Muurk’s publisher owes Sam a BJ a month for the term of the parking deal.

  7. Reed+ Liccardo+ Mercury news = Massive amounts of Misinformation/Deception + lots of illegal activities that will NEVER be reported

  8. JK thanks for finally acknowledging the mutual “relationship” that the Merc , Reed and now Liccardo have. It hasn’t ever been a secret but whenever it has been brought up in the past the truth sayers were dismissed as malcontents… Folks better wake up to the fact that this is how the “Machine” politics of SJ works!!!
    The Merc is merely reaping the benefits of carrying Reed’s water in the fight against City Employees – just as the real estate developers have reaped the benefits of campaign contributions…

    Two points:
    (1) Reed is clueless as usual – The Merc did not move to “Brokaw” is was located on “Ridder Park Circle.”

    (2) “…Doctor diagnosed the paper as potentially missing out on scoops for years because the paper’s current location isn’t easily accessible….”

    Here is the first scoop for the DTSJ Merc: In the parking garage that they will now use for free they will be able to (1) Hook up with a prostitute (2) get the “hard sell” from some really nice folks Crack, meth or weed and (3) maybe get beaten or robbed while (4) having your car broken into or stolen!

    Welcome to the San Jose you helped Reed Build. ENJOY!!!

  9. Really, this the Mayor Idiot has quoted since he has been in office….But he wasn’t finished. Reed also told the Mercury News, “It’s important to have one of the nation’s best newspapers downtown.” This crap of a paper is just printing other peoples news. All most a buck for a 6-8 page paper (minus all the crap Advertisements) They have no real reporters. But Chuck wants to give them a sweet deal.

    This paper sucks

  10. I folded my papers at the corner of Market and Santa Clara St. When the Mercury had a world Globe atop it, Like the daily Planet in Superman. Tony Ridder was a copy Boy working inside. In the Mid 50’s
    When Blanca and Richard Rios started the anti Graffiti Program, How did the Merc Get away with not removing their Graffiti atop the Capitol Club.
    OK Blanca, What do you and Sam Licardo Have to say about a remedy? The Graffiti Abatement Committee 2014!
    Now that is discusting , a clear double standard and everyone has their heads in the political SAND BOX. Typical of the heavy handed and bulling methods of the good ole boys.
    Perhaps I have a solution, Remove the Capital R and one D and replace it with the capital K.
    The Graffiti Sign would then say NIGHT RIDER, Sell the R & D to a silicon Valley Research start up. Cool HUH?
    Who’s on First, Chucky? No Love Tuesday will have a great laugh with he Mercury News coming to town. It will be very interesting what they will put atop of their new building. Can’t wait!

  11. OK,HERE IS WHAT TRANSPIRED ON THE MERCURY NEWS, AT HENRY’S HIGH LIFE, ON NO LOVE TUESDAY.THE REALITY WAS, WHEN WE GOT DONE , WHICH TOOK ALL OF 5 MINUTES, WE FOCUSED ON THE OBITUARIES.
    THERE, WE FOUND SOME INTERESTING READING. I WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU KNACKLE HEADS AND YOUR OBITS EXPANDED. PUT JOE RODRIGUEZ ON THAT DETAIL AND WE COULD SEE THE BEST OF THE MERCURY NEWS YET!