Neil Bluhm may bid against Tronc for Sun-Times – Marketing/media News

on Jun5

5 June 2017 | 10:00 am

Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm’s family is interested in buying the Chicago Sun-Times in a face-off that could pit the real estate magnate against Chicago Tribune parent Tronc, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Bids for the city’s No. 2 paper are due by the end of the day today in a solicitation demanded by the Justice Department’s antitrust division last month after Tronc said it had entered into a nonbinding letter of intent to acquire the Sun-Times.

Tronc and Sun-Times owner Wrapports said at that time that details, such as a purchase price for the smaller paper, weren’t finalized.

Sun-Times Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk declined to comment.

Bluhm ranked 204th on Forbes’ list last year of the wealthiest people in the country and is third-richest in Illinois.

In addition to being a co-founder and chairman of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, he is a co-founder and managing principal of real estate investment firm Walton Street Capital and a co-founder and president of JMB Realty, according to a biography on the Rush Street website.

The Sun-Times has been struggling to make money for years as newspapers across the country lose readers and advertisers to upstart digital news operations. Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro swept in with other wealthy Chicago investors to buy the Sun-Times in late 2011, creating Wrapports and eventually buying the Chicago Reader, too, before he exited that company last year to take a controlling stake with some of the same co-investors in Tribune Publishing, which his management team renamed Tronc.

In disclosing the Tronc bid for Wrapports assets on May 15, the two newspaper companies said the Sun-Times newsroom would be operated separately from the Chicago Tribune’s to keep an “independent voice” if the transaction is approved by the Justice Department and completed. Tronc owns a group of papers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun.

Bluhm’s companies have acquired, developed and/or managed more than $50 billion in real estate worldwide, including luxury hotels, casinos, shopping malls, office buildings, and other projects, the site said. They include Rivers Casino properties in Des Plaines and in Pittsburgh, plus the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia.

He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and has a law degree from Northwestern University Law School.

Bluhm has been a big contributor to Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and may believe his ownership would better preserve the historically left-leaning bent of the Sun-Times.

The Chicago Tribune has long been the more conservative paper, though there was some controversy in 2014 that the Sun-Times under Ferro’s leadership was favoring then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner before the Chicago private-equity executive was elected governor of Illinois.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker and wealthy businessman Chris Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, have entered the race as Democrats to challenge Rauner next year in what is likely to be a heated campaign for the state’s top office.

Like Pritzker, Bluhm and his children, Leslie, Andrew and Meredith, were also big donors to failed Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

The Bluhm family isn’t the only interested bidder for the Sun-Times. Other bidders may include former Chicago Ald. Edwin Eisendrath, working with labor unions, and Thane Ritchie, founder of suburban hedge fund operation Ritchie Capital, media columnist Robert Feder reported.

Still, the Bluhm family may be the best-positioned, given Wrapports’ stated interest in a buyer that could bring substantial resources to the paper’s operations. In a separate release May 15, Wrapports said it had entered into discussions with Tronc after “seeking alternative arrangements” with media inside and outside Chicago. Some of those companies included Gannett and Shaw Media, Crain’s reported.

That Wrapports press release noted that a combination with Tronc “made the most sense” in light of existing print and distributions services provided to the Sun-Times by Tronc.



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