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Four-story brown brick building in St. Paul

St. Paul: Most of the work yet to be done on MPR's new north wing (above) is indoors. Visible on the top floor is a zinc-clad meeting area, the Forum. (Photo: MPR.)

Girders up in Boston,
sheetrock in St. Paul

Originally published in Current, March 20, 2006
By Steve Behrens

In Boston and in St. Paul, Minn., two of public broadcasting’s most prolific producers are building expanded factories for their output of national and local programming.

WGBH, with a staff of about 950 in TV, radio and other media, has raised girders for a new two-building, 330,000-square-foot complex in Boston’s Brighton area, not far west of its present headquarters.

Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media Group, with 420 employees in the Twin Cities, is more than doubling the space in its downtown St. Paul headquarters to 120,000 square feet.
Both stations have raised most of the money to cover the projects.

WGBH’s project will cost $87 million, but it had to ask for only the last $18.5 million in its Breaking New Ground capital campaign — a drive that had reached 90 percent of its goal as of last week. The Bostonians covered much of the rest by selling their longtime quarters to Harvard University, whose campus is advancing into WGBH’s famous ZIP code, 02134. Neither Harvard nor the station will reveal what the school paid.

MPR similarly has relatively little to left to raise — $1.7 million of the $53 million board-approved facility expansion budget, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. Of the total, $46.5 million of the facility project’s fundraising target is being covered by MPR’s broader capital campaign, The Next Standard, which is fast approaching its goal.

In both cases, a major reason for facility expansion is to consolidate staffs that dispersed to other buildings as the organizations grew over the years. WGBH has housed its people in a dozen facilities. MPR outgrew its present building, built in 1979, by filling an empty floor and exiling its for-profit operations a few years after it opened; other units followed by the mid-1990s, eventually spreading to three sites beyond MPR’s home.

To give MPR flexibility if it must expand again, the network has purchased land on both sides of its building—a grassy space to the west and a parking lot to the east. Growth is already squeezing out spare room. Its national distribution arm — American Public Media, created in 2004 — will occupy the fifth floor, which had been reserved for future expansion.

Cedar Street, Guest Street

MPR broke ground in June 2004, months before WGBH, and is finishing first. Its news producers began using added studios in its new north wing for programming last week. The facility will be fully occupied by July, said MPR President Bill Kling.
As the network added its north wing to the building, it nearly doubled its number of studios and editing suites from 23 to 42. Its newsroom now runs across the third floor of both wings.

With the city’s permission, MPR closed a side street and spent $7 million to buy and demolish the office building along Cedar Street to the north. The new wing’s steel frame was rising by the end of 2004 and was topped off a year ago.

Bare girders under construction

Boston: The 250-foot connector between the two buildings of WGBH's complex takes shape in January. Oval shape is roof of screening theater. (Photo: Chris Pullman, WGBH.)

In Boston, the staff won’t start moving into the Brighton facility until December or January, and the last units will wait until March 2007, predicts WGBH spokeswoman Lucy Sholley.

The project got a head start with the purchase of a largely unoccupied seven-story, 185,000-square-foot office building that had gone begging for occupants. Located in a traditionally industrial part of Brighton, the complex will assume the address One Guest Street. It’s named for Guest Bread, which was baked there long ago, according to Christopher Pullman, the station’s design v.p. and overseer of the project.

The complex is visible to drivers headed east to central Boston on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90). WGBH is adding a new technical operations building on the other side of Guest Street. In November contractors hoisted the 250-foot bridge, known as the connector, that now runs between the buildings.

More than a footbridge, the connector is two stories high, 50 feet wide and big enough to provide a third of the complex’s office space. National and local producers will work on the fifth and sixth floors of the office building, where the connector attaches, so they can easily cross to the operations center.

Look in, come in

Like Philadelphia’s WHYY and other big-city pubcasters (Current, Aug. 5, 2002), WGBH and MPR asked architects to open up their new homes to the public.

As drivers take I-90 through Brighton, they’ll see workers crossing the glassy connector, as well as colorful images on a 30-foot-high electronic mural of light-emitting diodes. (The station assured Boston authorities that images will be nonpromotional, text-free and largely static to avoid distracting drivers.)

WGBH will invite the public to do more than peer inside. For the first time, Pullman says, it will have a decent space where members can come in, attend screenings and “kick the tires.”

Guests at One Guest Street will enter a two-story, 2,500-square-foot public hall on the first floor, with access to a 200-seat screening and lecture theater, a radio performance studio that can seat up to 70, and two TV studios.

MPR’s facility likewise will open up its home visually, with an atrium and far more glass than the brown-brick south wing it built nearly three decades ago.

“In 1979, we built a building that looked solid because, frankly, we weren’t fairly solid,” Kling told Current. “Now we are in good shape as community institutions go, and we wanted a different approach that welcomes the community in.”

Symbolizing that invitation is the Forum, a zinc-covered box atop the north wing. MPR’s Public Insight Journalism project will host groups of people, sometimes 100 or more, from its growing database of volunteers with knowledge of newsworthy subjects. Though the project often consults its Public Insight sources by phone or e-mail, the discussion becomes far more useful, Kling said, with the “catalytic” interaction of an in-person meeting.

Give as you like

The capital campaigns that will cover most remaining costs of the new headquarters in Boston and St. Paul — as well as other operational projects at both stations — are nearly done, with major donors doing the heavy giving.

As of last week, MPR had raised all but $225,000 of its $51.5 million target, and the bulk of it came in helpings of $25,000 or more. Fifteen gifts topped $1 million, including the largest, $2.5 million from the McKnight Foundation, according to Johnson. The city of St. Paul contributed $3 million in redevelopment aid, Kling said.

WGBH had already raised $30.9 million of its $40 million goal when it announced the Breaking New Ground campaign in October, and the mark was $36 million by last week. Totals include the biggest single gift it has ever received — $7 million from the Jean Yawkey Foundation, created by the late owners of the Boston Red Sox.

Challenge grants are capping WGBH’s drive. Last summer, a number of members of the station’s Board of Trustees pledged to match any six-figure donations, up to a combined total of $1.5 million, from donors who had never given in the six figures before, said Win Lenihan, director of development. Nine donors, whose combined past giving was less than $200,000, took the challenge and made the match.

In January WGBH put another challenge to rank-and-file members: If the drive hits its $40 million target, the Kresge Foundation will kick in a $2 million challenge grant. Kresge has helped many stations boost their capital project fundraising with six- and seven-figure challenges. MPR also got help from Kresge — $1.5 million.

In both Boston and St. Paul, fundraisers are letting donors gravitate to the objects of giving that motivate them.

 Though most of MPR’s capital campaign will pay for the facility, it’s raising $5 million for three categories of operations:

Less than half of WGBH’s $40 million capital campaign goal will go into the new facility, but many givers like nothing better than putting together bricks and mortar, according to Lenihan. Lacking a big construction project until now has hurt the station’s past capital campaigns, she says.

Some of the masonry is being sold piece by piece. Though the station decided not to name the whole building after a donor, it will name parts. The public hall and screening theater, for instance, will be named for the Yawkeys. Donors of smaller amounts will be able to put their name on a wall, with many other names, for $500 or more.

Other potential givers are wary of construction spending and prefer to endow a facility’s added future operating costs “to make sure that the building does not become an increased drag” on the budget, Lenihan explained. WGBH aims to raise $10 million for that purpose; investing that amount would subsidize operating costs of $450,000 a year.

Donors of a third kind put a higher value on supporting the work that’s done inside a building, Lenihan said. For them, the station set a $11.5 million goal for a Strategic Opportunities Fund, which will provide capital for future programming and mortar-free undertakings.

WNYC to bid farewell to longtime home for new digs

Originally published in Current, April 5, 2006

New York’s WNYC-AM/FM will soon leave the city’s Municipal Building — its home of 81 years — for a far roomier space elsewhere in Lower Manhattan.

The station announced March 22 that it has signed a 20-year lease, with a 10-year renewal option, for more than 70,000 square feet of studio and office space at 160-170 Varick St., between Greenwich Village and the Holland Tunnel.

The station will occupy the eighth and ninth floors and half of the seventh in its new digs, which include a 3,700-square-foot performance space on the ground floor of the 12-story building. Its current offices are far smaller — 51,400 square feet — and are scattered across eight floors of the somewhat worse-for-wear Municipal Building.

WNYC plans to relocate in a year to 18 months after “considerable construction,” according to a press release. President Laura Walker would not disclose the cost of the move but said it will be funded in part by a campaign. The station also received $1.5 million for the performance space from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

PBS moves its office two Metro stops closer to Washington, D.C.

Originally published in Current, March 6, 2006

Last week PBS completed its move to new headquarters in Crystal City, a mixed-use office park next to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va.

Some of its technical staff remains at Braddock Place, the network’s Alexandria home since 1987. This month contractors are expected to complete an expansion of PBS’s Satellite Operations Center in Springfield, Va., where the other techies will work.

PBS occupies five and a half floors of a black-glass 1968 building that formerly housed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The 130,000 square feet of office space was rebuilt and rewired to PBS’s specs.

Sixty percent of the space is devoted to cubicles and the rest to private offices. At Braddock Place, cubicles comprised only 10 percent of the work space, said spokeswoman Jan McNamara

Crystal City is one stop from the airport and two subway stops closer to Washington, D.C., than the Alexandria complex. PBS’s new address is 2100 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA 22202-3785. Its phone numbers are unchanged.

WOSU to build remote studio in downtown Columbus

Originally published in Current, Jan. 17, 2006

Ohio State University’s WOSU will raise its profile in the state capital by adding two studios within blocks of the statehouse and the city’s theater district and a mile from station headquarters on campus.

Construction begins next month as WOSU celebrates its 50th anniversary and is scheduled to be complete by fall.

WOSU@COSI, as the facility will be called, will be located in rented space in the nonprofit science museum, the Center of Science and Industry, says General Manager Tom Rieland. The station has raised $3.6 million of the $5.6 million project cost, including a $1.6 million grant from Battelle Memorial Institute, based in Columbus.

Like Philadelphia’s WHYY and several other stations with new quarters, WOSU aims to open itself to public view and invite people to attend more events in its studios.

Web page posted April 18, 2006
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Copyright 2006

Also on the move


Stations move into higher-profile new homes in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Houston, Tampa and Atlanta; plans are laid in New Orleans, Harrisburg, Detroit and Albany, 2002.

With Harvard's campus expanding toward its HQ, WGBH plots a move, 2002. City approves its video mural, 2005.

Detroit Public TV gave up plans to locate downtown, but its newly adopted sister radio station, WRCJ will be housed at a magnet high school in the arts district, 2005.

Cleveland stations plan their move to the theater district; Connecticut network moves in Hartford.


About Minnesota Public Radio's expansion project and capital campaign.

WGBH describes its capital campaign. Webcam showing construction site.

In Harrisburg, Pa., WITF-FM/TV is well into a $39 million capital campaign, with much of the proceeds going toward a new headquarters. Construction webcam.


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