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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0529.
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