Heidelberg has sold the Print Media Academy building across the street from the town’s central station. Although the glass and steel structure was somewhat symbolic – it may ultimately be seen as a re-enactment of a heavy metal fantasy that went awry as the demand for sheetfed offset presses declined over the past two decades. It is reported that the building is sold to a Luxembourg-based investment company for a low double-digit million Euro sum. The erstwhile owners will continue to lease some office space in a building in a prime location that must have been expensive to build and maintain.
Commenting on the PMA sale, CEO Rainer Hundsdörfer said, “For us, the sale of PMA is the next logical step on our schedule. We are aware that the sale has a signal effect: However, we will remain closely connected to the city as well as the region in the future. At the same time, we are convinced that the change of ownership will open up new, diverse perspectives for the city and the local people.”
The 12-story PMA building is one of the tallest buildings in the university city. It had a company-owned Michelin starred restaurant on the top floor and a bar on the ground floor. Both have since been sold and are open to the public. The building was seen as the centerpiece of a larger project to include research and development and a showroom for its presses. Its inauguration in 2000 coincided with its 150th anniversary.
However, the offset press industry’s decline in the developed countries had already begun, as publicly proclaimed by Heidelberg CEO Hartmut Mehdorn. His successor, Bernhard Schreier, soon launched the company’s joint venture with Kodak to build a digital press followed by its factory building in Qingpu just outside Shanghai in 2005. Heidelberg eventually left the digital press joint venture for Kodak to go it alone. Ironically, in the PMA building’s subterranean auditorium, Gerold Linzbach announced the tie-up with Fuji Dimatix to build the now stillborn Heidelberg B1 digital inkjet press.
The PMA building with a long rising escalator in an atrium and its upended verticality with heavy metal cylinders combine several metaphors of scale in a modern glass ‘transparent’ frame. However, its association with ‘Academy’ was always tenuous and unclear. It did not refer to the city’s excellent university. The 13-meter high three-legged horse sculpture in steel was the only cultural reference. As a modern re-incarnation or vision for German technology, or communication and culture, the building was a failure. The new owners will require great imagination to introduce some softness, purpose, and viability to the structure.
The Heidelberg liquidity program in the pandemic year
Heidelberg had previously sold its head office building and research and development building within walking distance of the PMA tower. Before Christmas 2020, the company announced the sale of around 130,000 square meters at its leading manufacturing site just outside the Heidelberg in Wiesloch/Walldorf to European developer VGP, who will create a modern industrial park there. The purchase price of this parcel was said to be in the mid-double-digit million-euro range.
Heidelberg’s Wiesloch/Walldorf site covers an area of 840,000 square meters, and the December sale of a parcel was only the first part of the company’s real estate divestment. An additional 270,000 square meters is available in the planned site and structure optimization. Even in December, one suspected that the PMA building, which is about 17.3 kilometers from the factory, could easily be the next on the block.
Chemical and Gallus Group – sale and return
In the first half of December 2020, Heidelberg sold its BluePrint Products NV and Hi-Tech Chemicals BV, including its Belgian production site for printing chemicals to DC Druck Chemie GmbH (Druck Chemie), a subsidiary of Langley Holdings PLC, UK. Langley Holdings is an international engineering group that produces capital goods for a wide range of industries worldwide and is also the owner of Manroland Sheetfed. Heidelberg received a purchase price of approximately 20.5 million Euros (about Rs 183 crore).
Meanwhile, on 29 January 2021, Heidelberg announced that its sale of the Gallus Group to Benpac had fallen through. The five sites of the Gallus Group and around 430 employees will remain with Heidelberg and perhaps require cash resources. It was a deal that was supposed to net Heidelberg approximately Euro 120 million. Overall, the company’s restructuring seems like a day to day process in which raising cash by divesting non-focus businesses may be a prerequisite to streamlining more resources.