OPUBCO completes production assets and real estate sale to American Fidelity Assurance Co.

The Oklahoma Publishing Co. has closed the sale of its production assets and all of its related buildings to American Fidelity Corp. for $74 million, show Oklahoma County property records. The purchase is a bargain by any measure.

The deal included the lavish, Class A, 227-square-foot, office tower; 129 acres of prime, undeveloped real estate fronting heavily-traveled Broadway Extension and the 315,000-square-foot production property, including the state of the art press.

Last year, OPUBCO and its assets were acquired for an undisclosed sum from the Gaylord family heirs by billionaire Philip Anshutz.

Anshutz — a conservative and evangelical Christian — owns multiple newspapers across the country. Observers have speculated his conservative policy and cultural views have informed his interest in newspapers as much as profitability.

In the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, the late Edward L. Gaylord, then-publisher of the newspaper, directed his tour guides to tell curious public tour attendees to reveal he’d bought what he believed was the nation’s state-of-the-art printing press, which would have placed an enormous price tag on it. It wasn’t unusual for major newspaper presses to cost $100 million – or more.

One announcement in the recent OPUBCO article about the sale seemed telling: as part of the agreement it signed just a two-year lease to remain in five floors of the office tower and lease the printing and production facilities.

The office tower was without peer in the newspaper business, E.L. Gaylord claimed at the time. It then was certainly among the finest Class A buildings in the metro.

Its two-story atrium entry was filled with granite, brass and marble finishes. The entry level featured an employee credit union. 

The layout of the facility may make it a perfect fit for American Fidelity, because the firm owns American Fidelity Bank and has had a branch in its current headquarters too.

The tower is connected by a pedestrian walkway to a company cafeteria, also a feature American Fidelity headquarters employees have enjoyed.

The OPUBCO lower level is equipped with an employee gym, an auditorium and a spacious employee lounge. Behind the building is a jogging track. The building also has conference facilities.

State-of-the-art (in 1991) electronics were built into raised floors to support advanced communications infrastructure.

The penthouse was the most lavish of all, but few saw it beyond the Gaylord family, top executives and trusted advisers. It had an adjoining outdoor terrace. The décor was dominated by millions of dollars worth of  western art, E.L. Gaylord’s favorite genre.

As for Anschutz, he reportedly began building his fortune in railroads but his investment portfolio is now vast and diverse.

American Fidelity is a billion dollar, family owned insurance company based at 2000 Classen Blvd. in Oklahoma City. In 1997, American Fidelity sold its headquarters, where it had resided since about 1960 — for $5.7 million to some Dallas investors.

The Gaylord family arguably invested several hundred million in the 9000 N Broadway property and all its improvements when built in two phases – 1985 for the production facilities and 1991 for the Class A office tower. 

A change in the communications business to multiple platforms has eaten away at many what is known as “legacy media.” Community newspapers in smaller markets and some cities have fared better due to heavy coverage of more specialized and/or local news.

Many major dailies continue struggling to find ways to retain their one-time profitability margins.

Before Anshutz’ acquisition, OPUBCO went through multiple layoff rounds of hundreds of employees, and lost key leaders such as Editor Ed Kelley and President/Publisher David Thompson. Audit Bureau of Circulation data shows the newspaper’s circulation has plunged to 143,000 in a metro area with over one million prospective readers.

Not disclosed in OPUBCO’s recent story was that it also sold a 75 percent ownership position in a jet hanger worth almost $1 million. OPUBCO owned company jets used in earlier days to service national advertising accounts.

The move is beginning immediately, according to The Oklahoman’s recent article.

Oklahoma County property records show American Fidelity also owns the 5100 Circle Building, valued by the County Assessor at about a half million dollars. Other property includes the Classen Circle building headquarters of American Fidelity Bank. 

In conclusion of its announcement last week, The Oklahoman article reported these comments from Dave Carpenter, president and chief operating officer of American Fidelity:

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to grow, with 150 acres included in the purchase. We will be able to expand as our business grows.”

He continued, “The purchase benefits both parties as OPUBCO will stay at the location for several years, allowing them time to plan for their next move and the press facility can continue their operation without interruption. American Fidelity will have ample time to plan our relocation to ensure a smooth transition.”