Is there still room for two newspapers in the Twin Cities?

Execs at the Pioneer Press newspaper insisted today that the decision to cut 170 jobs at its printing plant near Holman Field and contracting with the rival Star Tribune does not indicate a sale of the paper itself despite ongoing rumors that it’s only a matter of time before the Twin Cities become a one-newspaper town.

But this line at the bottom of the Pioneer Press’ story on its decision doesn’t appear to bode well:

The downtown St. Paul headquarters of the Pioneer Press are also for sale. The assessed value of that 172,430-square-foot building is $3 million.

That seemed a logical next step for the company that owns the building. Not long ago, the skyway buzzed with the comings and goings attendant with a major metropolitan newspaper. But in the last few years, it’s become a quieter block, and “for lease” signs started appearing .

What will happen to the people who work there? Good question. All 162,000 square feet of the 60-year-old, eight-story building are available, the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal says.

That the Pioneer Press is shrinking can’t be big news, especially to those of us who spent time delivering the thing in the ’90s and ’00s. Today, you can’t throw the paper and hit the top step as we were once instructed to do; there isn’t enough bulk to it.

Closing the printing plant couldn’t possibly have surprised many people in the newspaper business. Pew’s State of the Media report this year signaled the obvious:

We have reported earlier that many newspapers either are farming out their printing or, if they keep their own presses, aggressively seeking contract printing jobs. When executives from McClatchy or Gannett address investors, they typically note as a sign of progress how many of their papers no longer print on site.

Especially if presses are gone, but even if not, imposing headquarters buildings, often serving as downtown anchors, are relics. In expansionary times, papers and parent companies banked land to prepare for future growth. No need for that anymore – with the real estate market improving, selling makes more sense.

In January 2013, for example, Gannett announced that it was moving from offices that had housed The Detroit News (and now The Detroit Free Press, too) since 1917. Gannett will also be selling its 1927-vinatage former headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., where the company was started and grew to the biggest in the industry. The Philadelphia newspapers have moved out of their iconic white tower into a former department store. That could be the fate of Tribune Tower in Chicago as well, and The Washington Post is exploring moving from its headquarters.

“The Pioneer Press remains fully committed to the communities we serve and will continue to deliver the relevant news and advertising information our customers demand,” Guy Gilmore, publisher of the Pioneer Press, said.

He didn’t say, of course, that it had to be on paper and as old-timers die off, it probably won’t be. The Pew report noted, for example, that more newspapers are going to a reduced printing schedule, printing only on certain days of the week if at all, and beefing up its online presence as an alternative.

Like many newspapers and media organizations, the Pioneer Press’ corporate owners are trying to trim costs to stay alive. In the smartphone era, it’s not an exercise without end for dead trees.