Real Estate Magnate Considers Competing Offer for Tribune

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A real estate magnate is considering a competing bid for Tribune Publishing Co., potentially derailing a hedge fund’s takeover of the newspaper company that owns the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News.

Stewart Bainum Jr., who had already agreed to buy Tribune’s Baltimore Sun and smaller Maryland newspapers in a deal with hedge fund Alden Global Capital LLC, is now interested in bidding for all of the newspaper publisher, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Alden, which already owned 32% of Tribune, had announced plans to buy the rest of the company for about $430 million in February. As part of that deal, Alden agreed to sell the Sun to the Sunlight for All Institute, a public charity formed by Bainum, who is chairman of Choice Hotels International.

But in recent weeks, Bainum and Alden have disagreed over how they’d share services until those newspapers are fully independent of Tribune, and Bainum has grown skeptical of Alden’s intentions of selling, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Bainum had previously expressed interest in buying the entire company -- and not just the Sun -- and is now revisiting the idea, said the people. But at this stage, there’s no certainty the talks will lead to a bid.

He has asked a special committee of Tribune’s board to release him from a nondisclosure agreement so he can speak with interested parties, the person said. Bainum’s plans were first reported by the New York Times.

Bainum’s idea, the person said, is to find philanthropists who want to support local journalism to help finance a bid that tops Alden’s offer, one person said. Bainum is willing to put in $100 million of his own money as part of the bid, the person said, and he’s being advised by the investment bank Allen & Co.

Representatives for Tribune’s special committee and Alden declined to comment.

If Bainum is successful, it could be a relief for Tribune journalists who have worried about being owned by a hedge fund with a reputation for cutting newsrooms.

In January 2020, two Chicago Tribune reporters wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling for “a civic-minded local owner or group of owners” and saying Alden’s cost cutting could lead to “a ghost version of the Chicago Tribune.” Tribune also owns newspapers such as the Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel and the Morning Call in Pennsylvania.

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