In February 2020, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) entered into an agreement with Colorado College to operate KRCC and build a media center in Southern Colorado to train the next generation of media professionals. Soon after this commitment, CPR was forced to shift to remote operations due to the novel coronavirus. Could CPR fulfill its growth obligations while adjusting to the challenges of a global pandemic? Could a financing solution enable both to happen despite the uncertain times?
In early 2020, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) embraced an exciting opportunity to collaborate and enhance journalism and public service, while working to train the next generation of media professionals for the benefit of Colorado and its citizens. That opportunity was formalized in February 2020, when CPR agreed to operate the KRCC group of radio stations on behalf of Colorado College. The agreement included the purchase of a building in downtown Colorado Springs that CPR would build out as the Southern Colorado Public Media Center. Once completed, the 10,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility would house CPR, KRCC, Colorado College, and Rocky Mountain Public Media under one roof.
“We had every intention of building that out, and then: global pandemic,” said Jenny Gentry, COO of CPR. “We had made a promise to complete a project, which was our challenge. We had lost a substantial amount of revenue in the next month after we made that promise.” By mid-March 2020, CPR, a top NPR station that reaches 95% of the state’s population, was adjusting to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting 95% of its operations to remote work. This required investment in technology so team members could set up studios in their closets at home to continue their broadcasts and reports on the pandemic, social justice, and the election. During the year, CPR would reach a record 3 million listeners and digital readers.
Faced with completely unforeseen and challenging circumstances, CPR leaned on its already robust nine-year relationship with KeyBank, which started in 2012 with a bond financing and grew to encompass a line of credit, treasury services, lockbox, and commercial card program.
With initial thoughts of a short-term business loan for the project, Gentry discussed CPR’s options with Michele Warren, Senior Vice President, KeyBank, who works with middle market clients to coordinate their banking needs. With the build-out project estimated at $2-3 million and interest rates low, Warren suggested they consult about a total refinancing package with Kristen Sundin, Vice President, Mountain and Plains Regional Manager, Key Government Finance, a wholly owned subsidiary of KeyBank.
CPR had two existing bond financings with Key Government Finance totaling $12.4 million. Sundin quickly came back with a plan to refinance everything and keep CPR’s payments and term the same, taking advantage of lower interest rates.
The solution was a $14.8 million tax-exempt bond financing that consolidated the 2012 and 2015 tax-exempt bonds and provided new funding for the media center build-out.
Warren noted that the financing did not have to go out to RFP. “I think that in and of itself is unusual,” Warren said. “I think CPR recognized that Kristen and her team were going to do an excellent job.”
To help with COVID-19 relief, KeyBank also worked with CPR to get two rounds of Payment Protection Plan loans to support its operations through the pandemic. In addition, CPR was able to easily access funds through an escrow account for the build-out project as it progressed. “Helping set up the mechanisms to make sure we have relatively easy access to that money in a very short period of time has been really helpful.”
With its financing solution in hand, CPR is shaping the current media landscape at a time when journalism is undergoing tremendous change. With construction now underway, the two-story media center is expected to open in mid-summer 2021.
The center’s upper level will feature state-of-the-art studios for KRCC and CPR, while the main level will house the Rocky Mountain PBS Regional Innovation Center and the Colorado College Journalism Institute, as well as a large community room.
“Local officials are very excited about our upgrade,” Gentry said. The reinvigoration of the 1970s-era brown and boxy building combined with the new Ed Robson Arena nearby will invigorate the neighborhood.
“Who your partners are makes a big difference,” Gentry said. “Through the process, the team from Key has been amazing to work with, as well as the lawyers and other entities that supported the transaction with their expertise
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