Downtown hotelier Doug Manchester confirmed this morning that he’s considering a purchase of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the local newspaper currently owned by Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills private equity firm.

“There’s lots of people interested in that asset,” Manchester said. “There has not been anything completed. We’re looking at it. It’s a very complicated transaction if it were ever to come to fruition.”

The Union-Tribune announced in July that it had hired an investment firm to explore options for its future. The same firm, Evercore Partners, helped broker the 2009 sale of the newspaper from former owner David Copley to Platinum Equity, the firm founded by billionaire investor Tom Gores.

The July announcement didn’t explicitly say the newspaper was up for sale. New acquisitions, partnerships and divestiture were all options, the newspaper reported then. But it also fit with the equity firm’s profile: Buying distressed companies, rehabbing them and then selling them after a few years.

Since Platinum bought the newspaper in 2009, it has hired a new publisher and editor, slowed the loss of print subscribers and put an increased focus on the paper’s online site. The newspaper was redesigned, rebranded and reinvigorated after suffering through three listless years as Copley downsized the flagging paper without offering any coherent strategy for what it would become. The paper averaged 219,000 daily subscribers in the most recent period, down from 242,000 in late 2009.

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Manchester is a politically active developer who for years has led the push to remake the waterfront Navy Broadway Complex into high-rise offices and hotels. He’s left his mark elsewhere along San Diego Bay, also building the two-towered Manchester Grand Hyatt and a nearby Marriott. He led a 1994 ballot-box push to encourage San Diego’s international airport to move to the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and attracted a high-profile boycott of his hotels after donating more than $100,000 to Proposition 8, the voter-approved initiative that banned same-sex unions in California.

If Manchester bought the newspaper outright, he’d get a key piece of property that local real estate analysts have said was a valuable part of the Union-Tribune’s 2009 sale to Platinum: The company’s main building, which sits on 13 acres in Mission Valley, just south of the Fashion Valley mall.

Randy Dotinga contributed to this report.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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    Written by Rob Davis

    Rob Davis is a former senior reporter for Voice of San Diego. He is currently a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at robdaviswrites@gmail.com or 619.259.0529.

    24 comments
    Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
    Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

    Bob Filner wants the People to buy the Chargers a la Green Bay and Mike Aguirre wants the Printers to buy the U-T. I love both these visionary public servants, but I do wonder about their reality-testing. Come ON, fellas, this isn't Cuba.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    I would think the paper would sell at less than it did two years ago, the company that owns it is seeing newspaper values remain flat with little future, and better places to put money where it will grow. An investment firm like Platinum Equity holds what has potential and sells what doesn't.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Count us as another potential cancellation. I've been considering it for the last year anyhow. We get everything but local news from the LA Times anyhow, and all the rest is available on-line or at the coffee place we hang out in.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    What do you want to build there, Dougie?

    susanf
    susanf subscribermember

    per Michael Aguirre's comment, there are a variety of alternatives. that is, if the paper is for sale.

    Elmer Walker
    Elmer Walker subscriber

    My understanding of him wanting to be called "Papa Doug" is just another way of him being called the Godfather. I too will cancel my subscription if the Godfather buys the newspaper as he will certainly turn it into a dedicated speak only highly about him tabloid.

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    And don't forget this paper won't go cheaply. There are rumors it sold for $50 million back in 2009. Seems like it would be worth more now that it's shed expenses and is, the publisher says, making a profit.

    Miriam Raftery
    Miriam Raftery subscriber

    Mike has the right idea. I'd gladly buy shares to get this paper out of the hands of private corporations or a developer who may not have the community's best interests at heart. I'm a writer who sued the UT years ago for violating copyrights and stealing from its freelance writers. The paper had a long history of union-busting, violating federal labor laws, right-wing politics (even giving money to the Republican National Convention to put elephant fireworks in the sky). They didn't even make a pretense of being nonpartisan or fair to all parties. While those things were done before the current owner, the people of SD deserve to know that the major newspaper is controlled by an organization that will put the people's interests first--not special interests or personal interests. I would certainly buy some shares in a people's owned UT!

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    The UT has been slowly dying as a home for real journalists since Neal Morgan was forced out. It still has a few good reporters and writers left, but they're a dying breed the way the paper is currently operating. If developer Manchester gets his hands on it, it will be the death knell of the UT.

    Steven Greer
    Steven Greer subscriber

    But if Manchester buys it, I quit. I'll read the sports for free online, but will never pay for it.

    Erik Hanson
    Erik Hanson subscriber

    Knowing how this City works, I imagine Manchester would develop the Mission Valley property, and ask the City to give him a few blocks in East Downtown to put the newspaper, because all world-class cities have a paper, and we would not want it moved to Los Angeles.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein

    I couldn't think of a worse thing for the health of democracy in San Diego than for one of the city's most powerful real estate developers to own what is still, even in its diminished state, the city's the most influential media business. I say this even if Manchester's professed motive is only to get his hands on the acreage in Mission Valley.


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