Western Communications has decided to sell its newspapers, including The Union Democrat.
Dirks, Van Essen, Murray and April, a newspaper merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, has been hired to market the properties. Dirks, Van Essen handled the sale of The Union Democrat to Western Communications in 1998.
The decision to sell comes amid the company’s filing in January for Chapter 11 in federal bankruptcy court, which protects a company from creditors as it restructures.
The Union Democrat building on South Washington Street also is on the market for $925,000. Coldwell Banker Segerstrom is the listing agent. The 10,000-square-foot, three-story building was built in 1912 and has been home to the newspaper since 1969. The newspaper has operated from several downtown Sonora buildings since it was founded in 1854.
Western Communications sold The Union Democrat’s former printing/circulation plant on Camage Avenue earlier this month for about $1 million. The money went to lower the company’s debt, estimated at $29 million in court filings in February, and to pay property taxes.
The circulation department moved into the South Washington Street building. The printing facility closed last year, and the paper is printed by the Sacramento Bee.
John Costa, president of Western Communications, said the company may be interested in a lease back of The Union Democrat building.
“We don’t know which papers are going to sell or not sell so we need a place to live,” he said.
Costa said Sonora’s paper is viable, as is the market.
“That paper is not going to close,” he said.
The Chandler family, which owns Western Communications, would like to hold onto its flagship paper, The Bend Bulletin, and neighboring weekly The Redmond Spokesman, and are seeking investors, Costa said.
It’s too early to say what may happen to any of the seven newspapers the company owns, he said, other than to say everything is for sale.
Robert W. Chandler, father of current board chairwoman Elizabeth McCool, bought The Bulletin in 1953 and, over the years, assembled the family-owned chain. He died in 1996.
“This is where the family started,” Costa said. “The family lives in Bend and with outside investors it would keep it private and local. That’s a possibility.”
The headquarters building in Bend is for sale as is all the other property owned by Western Communications. Bankruptcy Court documents filed in February by the company indicate all of the buildings are worth more than $22 million.
“The emphasis is on real estate,” Costa said.
The court filing lists as the major creditor Sandton Credit Solutions, which assumed the debt after the company came out of its first Chapter 11, which was filed in 2011. Also listed as creditors are a number of vendors, shareholders, county tax departments and the Internal Revenue Service.
Since the Jan. 22 filing, the company has laid off 33 people — two at The Union Democrat — and reduced the work week for 13 others. The result has been to better match expenses with revenue.
The newspapers have cut pages to save money on printing and to create a laser focus on local news.
Western Communications also owns the Del Norte Triplicate in Crescent City, California, as well as Oregon-based newspapers, Baker City Herald, The Observer in La Grande and the Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings.
Costa announced earlier this month he will retire at the end of April. Costa was hired at The Bulletin in 1997 and served as editor-in-chief until 2014 when he was named publisher. He also worked for the Idaho Statesman and the St. Petersburg Times during his nearly 50 years in the newspaper business.
“All I can say now is that it has been a distinct honor and rare privilege to serve this great company.”
McCool will remain chairwoman of the company while Dena DeRose, The Bulletin’s advertising director, will become chief operating officer of Western Communications, and Erik Lukens, The Bulletin’s editor, will become chief editorial officer of Western Communications.