In the aftermath of the 2018 fatal shooting of five staffers at the Capital Gazette newsroom, Tribune Publishing Company leased, and specially fortified, new space for the reporters in an Annapolis office building.
Citing the pandemic and the economic downturn, the company announced last August that it was permanently closing the newsroom and four others in the chain.
Now the Baltimore Sun Company (doing business as Capital Gazette) and Tribune have been sued by the landlord, Admiral Cochrane LLC, for allegedly defaulting on a five-year contract for space leased in early 2019.
The lawsuit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on April 6, demands $72,530 for past due rent and $499,386 future rent for a total of $571,916, plus legal fees and other costs.
For reporters who once worked at the Annapolis office – and have since been working out of their homes and grappling with pay cuts and furloughs – news of a default that could potentially cost the company a half million dollars was baffling.
“It doesn’t make any financial sense. Now they’re on the hook for all of it?” said Danielle Ohl, a reporter who chairs the Chesapeake News Guild.
Ohl said the default came as a surprise to survivors of the Capital Gazette tragedy who were re-traumatized by the workplace displacement.
“You watched people die while you hid under a desk,” features reporter Selene San Felice told the Washington Post last year, and “then you’re supposed to get better. Then you take that desk away from me. That’s how this feels.”
The Sun stopped making monthly payments for 180 Admiral Cochrane Drive “at the very minimum, from November 1, 2020 through the date of this complaint” the suit says.
The landlord sent letters last February notifying the tenant that it was in default, but the company allegedly failed to make any payments of previous rent owed.
“Even worse, following receipt of the default letters, Capital Gazette (and Tribune) failed to make payment of required Basic Rent and Additional Rent amounts that became due on March 1, 2021 and April 1, 2021,” the suit says.
In an April 2 letter, the Sun was notified that the lease was terminated, triggering a provision that means, despite being only six months behind, the media company now owes the full five-year lease obligation.
The space is currently unleased, according to Jeffrey M. Lichtstein, the Baltimore lawyer representing the landlord.
Lichtstein said the $499,000 future rent charge “would be reduced if the space were leased, but so far no replacement tenant has been found.”
The building is owned by Boston-based Grander Capital Partners, which has a Mid-Atlantic office in Baltimore.
Sun spokeswoman Renee Mutchnik referred The Brew to the Tribune, and Tribune chief of staff Max Reinsdorf said the company had no comment.
Lichtstein said The Sun and Tribune have until June 14 to respond.
Amid contract negotiations and discussion about Alden Global Capital’s bid to take over the Tribune, Ohl said, “We know how much cash Tribune has on hand. It’s just not true that they don’t have the money they need.”
Asked whether the company sought federal PPP subsidies during the pandemic, Tribune and Sun representatives did not respond.
Ohl said the default “adds insult to injury” after the especially cruel way reporters were ushered out of the premises.
When she and her co-workers learned the office was being shut down last August, they planned a final rally and farewell to their headquarters.
Hearing about the plans, Tribune officials preemptively locked the staff out of the building, saying the event raised “Covid-related health concerns.”
“Suddenly we had to leave what we were told would be our forever home,” Ohl said.