Central Valley

Deal to sell Modesto Bee building to college district falls through

Yosemite Community College District trustees have pulled out of talks about buying The Modesto Bee building downtown.

YCCD and The Bee's parent company, McClatchy Newspapers, had been negotiating for seven months. But trustees decided Wednesday night that operational costs of the 156,000-square-foot building were too high in a time of economic uncertainty.

The two-story Bee building and parking lot, which take up a block and half in downtown Modesto, have been for sale since January with a list price of $7 million to $8 million.

"We were fearful about the future of state budgets, that the board and I felt that we just could not put taxpayers at risk," YCCD Chancellor Roe Darnell said.

YCCD is the parent district of Modesto Junior College and Columbia College. Officials envisioned using The Bee building as the district's headquarters, but estimates put annual operational costs at upward of $300,000. That's a venture trustees weren't willing to try given recent deep cuts in the state's education spending.

Instead, officials will return to a plan to remodel the administrative offices on MJC's West Campus. Funding will come from $326 million in Measure E school bonds.

The Bee President and Publisher Eric Johnston said the company would consider other offers. Officials are looking for sale terms that would allow The Bee to remain in the building.

"We're looking for the right buyer and the right financial options," Johnston said. "This changes nothing in our day-to-day operations."

Some community members opposed YCCD's purchase of the building, saying the county would lose $229,000 in property taxes, because public entities don't pay the same taxes as private agencies. Others questioned the district's ability to cover the costs of the building.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.