Former L.A. Times printing plant in O.C. to become creative office space

A printing plant that used to churn out daily newspapers could soon be home to a much hotter commodity: creative office space.

Kearny Real Estate Co. plans to spend more than $100 million to turn a former Los Angeles Times plant in Costa Mesa into 300,000 square feet of the kind of trendy, open office space many companies desire but that's in short supply in Orange County.

"Tenants like a lot of volume, they like a lot of light, they like a lot of interaction between the indoors and outdoors — that's hard to find," said Jeff Dritley, managing partner of the Century City developer.

Though Kearny is saving only the shell of the building, Dritley said the project will hearken back to its former use as a printing plant and newsroom — something he thinks tenants want. Renderings of the project, called the Press, include images of printing presses throughout the interior.

"We're going to play off that history, that authenticity of the building. All that stuff makes it cool," Dritley said.

The development also will include many of the amenities common to creative developments, including volleyball courts, grills and outdoor seating. Kearny won't begin construction until it has lined up tenants who want at least 100,000 square feet.

Creative offices, with their open floor plans and collaborative work spaces, have become common on L.A.'s Westside, Hollywood and downtown, but are just making headway into Orange County, said Jay Nugent, a senior vice president in the Irvine office of real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.

Nugent estimates the county has about 1 million square feet of creative space now, and twice that amount in development — not counting Kearny's project. "We're seeing a lot of demand for it," Nugent said.

Such space was initially sought by tech firms, ad agencies and other companies looking for a creative vibe, but over the last few years it's gained popularity among law firms and other buttoned-down tenants more common in Orange County.

"There's no doubt more traditional companies are exploring creative space," Nugent said. "It's no longer just for the young start-up company."

Developers are rushing to build more creative office space because they believe it can command higher rents, said Jed Reagan, a senior analyst at Newport Beach real estate consulting firm Green Street Advisors.

"It is not uncommon to see these types of creative projects command a pretty healthy premium to a more traditional building just down the street," Reagan said.

Lease rates for premium office space in the area goes for $3.11 per square foot per month. Dritley expects the Press will be able to command a at least a 30% premium — indicating rates above $4 a foot.

The project is a joint venture of Kearny and Tribune Real Estate Holdings, a subsidiary of former Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Media that owns the plant and property.

Tribune Media in 2014 spun off the Times, Chicago Tribune and its other newspapers into Tribune Publishing, a separate company, but held on to the Costa Mesa plant and other real estate.

Last year, the Chicago company announced it wanted to partner with other firms to redevelop the Costa Mesa site and the Times' downtown L.A. headquarters. Dritley said he expected the project would be sold off once completed.

Tribune Media spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment on the Costa Mesa project.

The Times stopped printing newspapers at the Costa Mesa plant in 2010, five years after closing another printing plant in Chatsworth. The paper still operates plants in Los Angeles and Irwindale.

Van Nuys toy maker MGA Entertainment, the maker of Bratz dolls, plans to develop the Chatsworth plant and surrounding land into corporate headquarters, as well as apartments and retail space.

Isaac Larian, MGA's founder and chief executive, said he hopes to break ground on that project this summer.

james.koren@latimes.com

Twitter: @jrkoren

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