HARRISONBURG — James Madison University added a key gateway into campus on Thursday: The building that houses WVPT, the city’s public television outlet.
The $2.35 million sale of the structure, which technically changed hands from the station to JMU’s Real Estate Foundation, was announced in a WVPT press release Thursday morning and is expected to be completed in February. The station will stay in the building for two or three months after the agreement is finalized.
It will then move its operations to a smaller, as-yet-unknown Harrisonburg location, the first transition since opening at 298 Port Republic Road in 1968 to serve the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia.
“We look at this as an opportunity … to be able to become a more relevant community resource with local programming we’d like to develop,” President and General Manager David Mullins said in a phone interview. “All of this is contingent on donor support.”
As part of the agreement, WVPT will continue to lease space for its transmitter at the Port Republic Road site. The station, while owning the building, has leased the land on which the facility sits from JMU since it went on the air more than four decades ago.
“WVPT approached James Madison University and the JMU Real Estate Foundation regarding their interest in purchasing the facility, and we were very pleased with their positive response,” WVPT Chairman Neal Menefee said in the press release. “We quickly determined that relocating WVPT could be advantageous for both parties.”
Bill Wyatt, a spokesman for JMU, said the university will use the 23,000-square-foot building for academic purposes.
“I don’t know that there were plans [to buy it] or that we were eyeballing it,” JMU spokesman Bill Wyatt said. “[But] from our perspective, it’s contiguous to campus and makes sense to add to what we already have.”
The recent decline and, as of last year, eventual elimination of state government support has hurt WVPT’s revenues and was a contributing factor in the transaction.
WVPT employs 15 people and operates on a $2.2 million budget, about half of which comes from donations, Mullins said.
“The importance of donor support to public broadcasting is so critical,” he said.
The station is operating in its second year without state aid, after the General Assembly cut funding for public broadcasting in 2012.
WVPT received $420,000 in state funding in the 2011-12 fiscal year. That was about 16 percent of the station’s then-$2.9 million budget.
State support had steadily declined since 2009, when the station received $990,000.
“While JMU has been a very gracious and generous landlord … the move will allow the station to conduct business at a location that is more suitably sized for our current and future operations and provide the JMU Real Estate Foundation with a building located at a primary campus entrance on Port Republic Road.”
Mullins said WVPT has “investigated” several locations in Harrisonburg, but it would be “premature” to name one as its future home. The station is looking for a building less than half the size of its current one because it plans to outsource its broadcast operations equipment to focus on programming, he said.
The new building will still have a small studio to produce live shows. Mullins hopes to add programming that tells the story of the region.
“Viewers will see no changes, except for the likelihood of equal or better services,” he said. “We want to reach out to the community to find what their expectations are.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com