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Times opens new home

The new Times building in Hernando County contains a conference room, emergency power and plenty of parking.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

The St. Petersburg Times has been covering the news in Hernando County for 35 years without ever having a place to really call home.

Until now.

On Monday, the Times opens a gleaming new office building on State Road 50 near the Suncoast Parkway that provides the newspaper with an address it can truly call its own.

The two-story structure, with its distinctive sloping roof and floor-to-ceiling windows, was built at a cost of $6-million, a price that includes roughly 7 acres of land.

The opening means the Times will vacate the two offices it has been leasing on Jefferson Street in Brooksville and on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

On Monday the 34 news and advertising staffers who had been working in those offices will be under one roof. The added presence of a few business and circulation staffers from other Times offices will push the workforce to 42.

"I think that this building is a very strong sign of our optimism about the future of Hernando County and about the role that the St. Petersburg Times will play in that future," said Paul Tash, the newspaper's editor and president.

The building comes with some striking features.

-- A foyer with a 40-foot-high ceiling that will welcome guests with an electronic ticker on the wall capable of displaying messages and the latest Times headlines.

-- A multipurpose conference room with a capacity of 225 people standing or nearly 100 people seated. It will play host to company meetings and occasional public gatherings, such as candidate forums during election seasons.

-- A number of emergency operations features, including a reinforced west end of the building and a diesel generator that could enable work to continue even in storms packing 160 mph winds.

-- Extra computer power hookups that could enable staffers from other Times offices to temporarily relocate to Hernando in the event their offices suffer catastrophic storm damage.

Bells and whistles aside, the new building was purposely designed with plenty of open spaces and an abundance of natural light. The sloping roof, meanwhile, will keep direct sunlight from penetrating the tall windows.

"It's gorgeous. It kind of validates the company's concern that what we do up here is important and that our mission and our bureau is important," said Dan DeWitt, a Times reporter for 13 years.

Larry Beasley, the paper's general manager for Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, said many new buildings have nothing to say. "This says we are the Times," said Beasley, who led the site selection and construction of the new office. "It says we are building for the future and we want our staffers to enjoy working here."

To be sure, the building's arrival solves a couple of problems that have long plagued the Times.

The dungeon-like atmosphere of the Brooksville office, frequently rattled by passing rock trucks and its air fouled by faulty plumbing, now becomes a quaint page in company lore. So does its scarcity of parking.

The Spring Hill office, while less depressing in appearance, presented staffers and visitors with a daily thrill: dangerous U-turns around the medians on U.S. 19.

The new Times facility has 125 parking spots and right-turn access from both State Road 50 and Winter Street, just east of the Suncoast Parkway.

The move to 15365 Cortez Blvd. will offer the Times more land and office space than it currently needs, allowing for growth, Beasley said.

Practically speaking, readers may notice little change in the newspaper.

Hernando County editor Mike Konrad said combining the forces of the Times under one roof will make it easier for staffers to collaborate. Yet the paper no longer will have multiple sets of eyes and ears in downtown Brooksville and on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

"We may have to work a little harder to make sure we're getting out and traveling around the county to see what's going on," Konrad said. "And we will do that."

For Times staffers who have worked in Hernando County through the years, there is a sense of wonder about a 29,000-square-foot building, equipped with two large conference rooms, staff showers and a second-floor porch.

In February 1968, Lucy Morgan became the first Times reporter with responsibilities for covering Hernando County, albeit from New Port Richey in a job that also required her to cover Pasco County.

Previously, the Times had relied on local freelancers for occasional stories and pictures.

The arrival of regular coverage from a daily newspaper, particularly one independent of the local power structure, wasn't welcome by everyone. Some local political leaders, especially the crooked ones, liked it better before, Morgan said.

"The big advantage the Times had was that politicians didn't have enough control over us. They couldn't dominate us," said Morgan, now the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief and associate editor.

Soon, the Times gave Hernando County its own reporter, Dianne Stallings, and a small office at 10 S Main St. in downtown Brooksville. Shortly thereafter, Olie Stonerook became the paper's first photographer. And his pictures brightened the Times' pages until his death last year.

In 1978, Bill Stevens became the first Times editor stationed in Hernando County.

In 1980, the paper had enough readers to justify a section of the newspaper devoted solely to Hernando County. Today, that section has more than 33,000 Sunday subscribers, roughly twice that of the Tampa Tribune/Hernando Today.

Stevens, who now oversees news operations for the Pasco, Hernando and Citrus editions of the Times, remembers the days when the newspaper had one phone line in Hernando County. Now, it has a $6-million home.

"The Hernando Times, over the years, has established itself as the paper the people of Hernando County can go to and believe," Stevens said. "We respond to issues. We are part of the community. We live there."

Open for business

The new Hernando Times office is at 15365 Cortez Blvd. (State Road 50), at Cortez and Winter Street, just east of the Suncoast Parkway. It opens Monday and will be open for business from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. There are no changes in phone numbers for Times staffers. The main newsroom number is 754-6101. Other numbers are: 796-4456 for circulation and home delivery, 754-6111 for classified advertising, and 848-1444 for retail advertising.

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