Doug Manchester’s Big Dream for the Newspaper Never Came True - Voice of San Diego

Economy

Doug Manchester’s Big Dream for the Newspaper Never Came True

He'll probably do well on the real estate, but the ex-U-T owner wanted a lot more out of his newspaper purchase than he ended up getting.

In the beginning, there was bluster. And there was a lot of it.

The same day hotel magnate Doug Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune for $110 million three and a half years ago, his partner John Lynch said the paper was going to call out “obstructionists” against the duo’s dream of building a new stadium for the Chargers.

This was only the first of many pronouncements the Manchester-Lynch tandem made in the brief time they owned San Diego’s largest media company. Their dream of a new Chargers stadium is one of many to have floundered.

At the time of Manchester’s purchase, there were two beliefs for why the longtime San Diego lightning rod wanted his hands on the U-T. He wanted to use the paper as a bullhorn for his interests – football, military, Republicans – and he wanted the sweet Mission Valley property on which the newspaper sits. The second part of that equation still lives – Manchester kept the land when he sold the paper to the Tribune Company for $85 million this week – but the first was, by any measure, a failure.

Consider the things Manchester and Lynch fought the hardest for:

• They published plans in full-color on the front page for a new Chargers stadium development downtown. They proclaimed it the paper’s No. 1 priority. No one ever did anything with the idea. Today, the Chargers’ stadium situation is as dire as it’s ever been.

• They had not one but two front-page editorials boosting Carl DeMaio for mayor. DeMaio’s now a radio talk show host. Manchester even lost a fight among other Republican bigwigs to allow DeMaio to run for mayor again when former Mayor Bob Filner floundered.

• They wanted to destroy the Unified Port of San Diego for supporting industry at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal instead of tourism and a stadium. The port’s still there.

• They called Barack Obama the worst president in U.S. history and warned of apocalyptic consequences if he were re-elected, including the removal of, “In God We Trust” from our money. Obama was re-elected and our money’s the same.

• They invested in a new TV station — UT-TV — that would become a “a nationwide network of national news that all of the major metros contribute to,” Lynch said. He projected it would compete with CNN or Fox. Just six months after saying that, the U-T laid off much of the station’s staff and it ceased broadcasting.

It’s worth considering why Manchester didn’t get what he wanted. The region is pretty evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents so Manchester and Lynch’s brand of conservatism was out of step. It’s also true that newspapers don’t have the same pull they used to. The idea of a sports columnist convincing the public to build a football stadium – like Jack Murphy did in 1967 – is unthinkable today.

Manchester likely realized all this much sooner than this week. Rumors that the paper was on the block went back more than a year – to the point that Manchester wrote a front-page letter to readers last June denying that the paper was for sale.

And things have gotten noticeably calmer at the paper lately, a period that overlapped with Lynch’s phasing out and ultimate exit. A sports website wondered today if the U-T would cover the Chargers stadium situation with any credibility now that Manchester is gone. After all, sports columnist Tim Sullivan was axed in 2012 after management decided he was too much of a stadium obstructionist. But the U-T-as-unfailing-stadium-booster narrative falls apart in the face of business columnist Dan McSwain’s excellent recent coverage.

It appears Manchester did make a bit of money out of his purchase of the newspaper and could get more from the real estate. He wants to put two seven-story buildings and 200 residential units on the property. The project’s working its way through City Hall now.

It must be disappointing that he might only be getting some more buildings out of the deal. Remember this is a man who cares a lot about legacy. When he sold his most high-profile project, the giant waterfront Hyatt hotel next to the Convention Center, he required his name stay on it for 20 years.

“Why not?” he told us.

In 2012, Manchester officially changed the name of the newspaper from the San Diego Union-Tribune to U-T San Diego. The new owners, however, are already using the old name again.

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