Digital First Media holds the reins at The Orange County Register, but the 14.3 acres surrounding the daily newspaper’s operations at 625 N. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana went to developer Mike Harrah for $34 million.

“We’re not it the business of owning real estate,” said Ron Hasse, publisher and president of Digital First’s Southern California News Group, which now includes the Register and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside—recently acquired out of bankruptcy—and nine other dailies spread over the region.

“Most businesses … just look for the smartest and most efficient way of doing business and oftentimes that’s leasing” space, Hasse said. “And so that’s what we’ll be doing as we move forward.”

Harrah is a longtime presence in Santa Ana, where he has been a prime factor in the redevelopment of the city’s downtown. He joined with the management of the Register’s former parent—Freedom Communications Inc.—in a failed bid to buy the operation.

“[Harrah] was a competitive bidder with the local offer, and I think once the bid was finalized and Digital First Media selected as the winner of the bid, Mike began opening discussions with us,” Hasse said.

Harrah already owned the five-story Register, which he got from Freedom for about $27 million as the company hit a cash crunch in 2014.

That deal on the 173,000-square-foot property—which is separate from the adjacent land and printing plant—came with a lease-back that Digital First has renegotiated to run through the end of this year.

“[It] gives us an opportunity to exit the building sooner [than the prior deal] if we want to and find a new location in Orange County for the Orange County Register,” Hasse said. “When we do relocate, we’ll move all non-production positions into a new office environment. The production facility is under a longer lease and will still continue to run out of the Santa Ana office.”

You can read the full version of this story in the April 11 issue of the Orange County Business Journal: http://www.ocbj.com/

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