April 17, 2012 in Business

Ambassadors Group selling West Plains campus

The Spokesman-Review

Ambassadors Group is putting up for sale its Spokane headquarters, a 133,000-square-foot building and surrounding property near Spokane International Airport.

The building and 11 acres of land, at 2001 S. Flint Road, are listed for $13.3 million. Real estate broker Goodale and Barbieri Co. is handling the listing.

Ambassadors, which promotes cultural-immersion trips for students, said it would move into a smaller, leased space in Spokane.

President and CEO Jeff Thomas said in a news release Monday that the sale “is consistent with actions we have taken to right size our business and would enable us to monetize an underutilized asset and strengthen the company’s financial condition. We will continue to maintain our strong presence in Spokane and remain an active member of the community.”

A sale, the company said, would reduce facility and maintenance costs.

“Our current building is a beautiful facility, and the campus made sense for us when we began construction in 2006,” Thomas said.

The news comes a few weeks after two investor groups filed notices with Ambassadors saying they want the company to change directors and refocus operations to stem five years of steady stock decline.

The investors are Lane Five Capital Management, based in Towson, Md., and Bandera Partners, based in New York City. Lane Five, which owns about 7 percent of the company’s public shares, sent a preliminary proxy statement saying it will submit three new directors to Ambassadors’ board to replace three who are leaving.

Ambassadors in February said it lost $7.8 million in the last quarter of 2011, compared with a loss of $6.7 million in the previous fourth quarter. Net income for 2011 was $3 million, down from $8.1 million the year before.

Ambassadors reported net income of $31 million for 2007, the company’s 10-year high point. In its conference call this February, Ambassadors officers said they’re focusing on a number of initiatives, including cutting costs and more effective marketing.

The company began looking for ways “to creatively use the space and maximize the value of the property” a year ago, Thomas said. That included seeking tenants for part of the space, exploring sale-leaseback opportunities, and renting to a third party a portion of the light-manufacturing floor space shut down when Ambassadors outsourced its printing operations.

“Our advisers have also been working on helping us position the property for sale,” he said.

Thomas added, “We believe the Spokane real estate market has begun to stabilize and we are confident that now is the right time to publicly market the building as we have already received some initial indications of interest.”

Ambassadors Group, traded on the Nasdaq as EPAX, is the parent company of Ambassador Programs Inc., World Adventures Unlimited Inc., and BookRags Inc., an educational research website.

It also oversees the Washington School of World Studies, an accredited travel study and distance-learning school.

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