Feds take control of Tampa Bay Times pension plan as paper racks up $103M in liens

Paul Tash
The paper couldn't pay benefits and was 'financially unable to keep up the plan.'

The Tampa Bay area’s flagship newspaper is facing more financial peril, federal documents show.

The federal government has taken control of the Tampa Bay Times’ pension plan after finding its parent, Times Publishing Company, was unable to pay benefits. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation announced in a letter to beneficiaries it began taking over the plan Nov. 30.

“PBGC took action because the plan met the criteria for termination under federal pension law,” a PBGC spokesperson told Florida Politics. “In general, this means that the plan didn’t have enough money to pay all the promised benefits to its participants and was financially unable to keep up the plan.”

According to the letter, retirees will be paid without interruption and “the plan will terminate as of November 30, 2021. As of that date, you will not earn any further benefits from the plan.” PBGC said it will continue to pay the earned pension plan benefits, up to the limits set by law.

The move comes after years of PBGC liens against the Times on “all property and rights to property” owned by the company for failing to make required payments to the plan. PBGC liens against the Times total more than $103 million. According to Pinellas County records, a $30 million lien and a $7 million lien were refiled this year.

“Our goal has always been to fulfill our obligations to our pension,” Times President Conan Gallaty said. “But the publishing business has changed, and supporting the pension on our own is challenging. Though this outcome was never our goal, it is a good result for us. The publishing landscape is much different than it was even just a few years ago. This result allows us to focus on building our digital future.”

The latest blow follows a series of financial hits the newspaper has taken in recent years.

In 2017, a group of investors including Times CEO Paul Tash and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, loaned the paper $12 million under the name FBN partners. “Florida’s Best Newspaper” is a Times slogan. Two years later, as liens mounted, FBN partners, which also includes Tampa business executive Frank Morsani and his wife, Carol, developer Ted Couch, investment company chair (and part owner of the Washington football team) Robert Rothman, Tampa entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel and his wife, Pallavi, and two other unnamed investors, loaned the paper another $3 million.

But the loan wasn’t enough to stave off cutbacks and layoffs. In 2018, the Times laid off about 50 employees. In October 2019, the Times laid off seven more journalists, among others. In February of 2020, Tash announced all employees would receive a 10% pay cut and executives would get a 15% cut. A month later, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 11 more journalists were laid off. Shortly after, furloughs were announced. Then the paper cut its daily print production to Wednesdays and Sundays. Earlier this year, the Times announced more temporary pay cuts and sold its printing plant for $21 million.

In February 2020, the Times posted a heavily edited version of an Associated Press story about Miami Herald publisher McClatchy filing for bankruptcy. As Florida Politics noted then, the Times version of the story omitted nearly a third of the article’s content, including references to McClatchy looking to “unload its pension obligations to a federal corporation that guarantees pensions, so that employees would get the benefits they were entitled to.”

Last updated on December 10, 2021

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


7 comments

  • Ron Ogden

    December 11, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    For the past forty years ago I, as a Republican, have just choked over every and all the one-sided, unfair editorials in the St. Petersburg Times and despaired of ever finding fair, balanced and even ACCURATE coverage of Republican people, events and philosophies, and I have consoled myself by promising that one day even the St. Petersburg Times would get its comeuppance.
    Now, forty years later, when I see this newspaper that once called itself “one of America’s ten best newspapers” collapse in the ruins of its bias and partisanship, I have to admit. . .I am HAPPY AS HELL!

    • Frank Cali

      December 15, 2021 at 5:03 pm

      Dear Mr Ogden.
      You are not an Republican. you are an idiot.
      forget your stupid ideology. This is NOT about the Times it is about the workers retirement money.
      As someone who spent 38 years in the retirement industry and 17 years as an owner of an administration and consulting firm, you should be ashamed of yourself for you selfish attitude. I’m sure your collecting your retirement money just fine. You should consider yourself blessed. How would you like it if you had your benefits cut due to PBGC limits.
      FYI – I am 69 and have been an independent since I’m 19 yrs old.

  • Edward Lyle

    December 13, 2021 at 8:17 am

    Couldn’t have happened to a better rag… lol

    Karma’s a bitz…

    • Frank Fielding

      December 17, 2021 at 9:27 am

      Karma for WHAT? You don’t like aggressive newspapers shining lights into dark corners?

  • Jim Harper

    December 17, 2021 at 10:40 pm

    Daniel Figueroa, I admire your work in general. But in your zeal to paint this as yet another nail in the Times’ coffin, you have failed to understand the purpose of the federal Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation. It is not an enforcement agency; neither is it a government bailout. The PBGC is an INSURANCE agency, to which all pension-offering companies (including the Times) have paid premiums for decades…. As a beneficiary of the Times Pension Plan, I think this development is very good news. I regret that a local news organization to which I gave more than a quarter-century’s service, and which I still admire, has struggled to find new business models in this rapidly evolving media environment. But I am glad they finally got this burden off their back. I am even more glad that the pension I was promised and planned for remains secure..

  • Jim Harper

    December 17, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    As for the rest of you trolls…. The Times’ financial challenges have nothing to do with its news coverage or editorial positions. It’s a matter of simple economics in a rapidly changing industry.

    So educate yourselves and quit your chortling.

  • Mary L Russell

    December 21, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    Kiran Patel’s “wife” doesn’t have a name? Her entire existence on the planet is as a “wife?” WTF is the matter with “journalists?” Get with it…it’s 2021…’bout to be 2022. Do women not deserved to at least be NAMED for christ’s sake? Jesus, Mary & Joseph. SAY HER NAME!

Comments are closed.


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