East Valley Tribune deal expands to include 2 sister papers in Phoenix area

By Nick R. Martin | January 19th, 2010 | 11:20 am | 4 Comments »

Randy Miller photo
Randy Miller

The Colorado man who wants to buy the East Valley Tribune newspaper in Mesa has expanded his offer to include its two local sister papers.

The Ahwatukee Foothills News in Phoenix and the Daily News-Sun in Sun City are now part of newspaperman Randy Miller’s offer to buy the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tribune from its bankrupt parent company, according to three sources familiar with the discussions.

Representatives from the parent, Freedom Communications, told employees about the larger deal this morning during simultaneous staff meetings at the papers, the sources said.

The bigger deal marks another U-turn for Freedom, which has gone back and forth between wanting to sell the other two newspapers and wanting to keep them. The company said in mid-September it planned to sell the sister papers along with the Tribune, but then it took them off the table by the time Miller signed his letter of intent to buy the Mesa newspaper in November.

Two of the sources said the new deal still does not include the Tribune’s downtown Mesa headquarters, a building and property valued at more than $7 million. But it does include the building and printing press in Sun City.

The expansion could explain why it has taken so long for Freedom and Miller to tell a federal bankruptcy court about their proposed deal. The two sides were expected to file a motion outlining the deal in late December.

But when no motion was filed that month, a spokeswoman for Freedom said talks were continuing.

Miller, who owns the Thirteenth Street Media company in Boulder, Colo., emerged as the potential savior for the Tribune in November, just days after its parent company said it would shut the paper down by the end of the year if no buyer came forward.

Since then, the newspaper has continued printing on an interim basis while the details are being worked out.

Even with today’s news that his offer has expanded, however, the deal between the two sides is not guaranteed.

Freedom’s status in Chapter 11 bankruptcy means that the company must first put the newspapers up for what amounts to a public auction – one that’s run by a federal court – in which anyone can make a better bid. After all the offers are in, a judge will then which one is best.

At least one other potential buyer has said he plans to put in a bid with the court. Stephen Hadland, the chief executive of the Santa Monica Media Company in California, said he plans to aggressively challenge Miller’s offer.

Still, Miller has already been acting like the man who will take over the Phoenix-area newspapers. He has told employees of the Tribune to reapply for their jobs under his company and also told them about his plans should the deal go through.

That pattern appears to be continuing. Two sources said today that Miller was planning to visit the offices of the Ahwatukee Foothills News this afternoon.