If no other bidders come forward by July 11, The Union Democrat will be sold to a newspaper company with holdings in Rhode Island, California and Arizona.
A motion to sell the Sonora newspaper was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oregon on Thursday. Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, known as RISN, has offered $1.15 million for the newspaper that will mark its 165 year in July, its Washington Street building and all personal property.
The 10,000-square-foot building, on the market for $925,000, accounts for $550,000 of the $1.15 million purchase price, according to the filing in bankruptcy court. The building was built in 1912 and has been home to the newspaper since 1965, when Harvey McGee owned the paper, then a five-day afternoon paper.
Steven Malkowich, a veteran newspaper executive who made the offer, declined to comment about the sale. He heads several newspaper companies — each privately owned but with different investors, including Sound News Media, which bought the Bakersfield Californian in June, and the Central Valley News-Sentinel Inc., which bought the Lodi News Sentinel in 2015.
“We buy newspapers because we believe in them,” he said, then added later, “We’re not hedge fund guys.”
Betsy McCool, chairwoman of Western Communications, said her company bought The Union Democrat because it fit the company’s mission to own small community newspapers in beautiful areas.
“We’re sad to see it go,” she said, adding that company leaders want to ensure that employees are left in the best place possible.
Competing bids must be $50,000 higher than RISN’s. The bankruptcy judge will hold a hearing on the sale on July 29 in Portland.
If the court approves, officials with RISN and Western Communications will then decide on a closing date.
RISN was founded in December 2006 and bought the Rhode Island-based Journal Register Company’s three daily newspapers and a group of weekly newspapers the next year for $8.3 million.
It bought the Porterville Recorder in California and the Yuma Sun in Arizona in 2013. In 2017, it bought a Rhode Island weekly and its associated publications.
The decision to sell comes amid the company’s filing in January for Chapter 11 in federal bankruptcy court. The company first sought to restructure, then decided to liquidate its assets.
The sale of four of its seven newspapers will be finalized Thursday. EO Media Group will buy newspapers in Baker City and La Grande, and Country Media, will buy newspapers in Brookings in Oregon and Crescent City, California.
Western Communications sold The Union Democrat’s former printing/circulation plant on Camage Avenue earlier this year 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.
Robert W. Chandler, father of current board chairwoman McCool, bought The Bulletin in 1953 and, over the years, assembled the family-owned chain. He died in 1996. The Union Democrat is a wholly owned subsidiary.
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 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 intention was 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. The Union Democrat is printed by the Sacramento Bee.
Also filed in bankruptcy court last week was a proposal from Shelby Bishop to buy the former office of the Redmond Spokesman at 226 NW Sixth St. in Redmond, Oregon, for $240,000. Compass Commercial Real Estate Services would receive a percent commission on the transaction, according to the notice.
A weekly newspaper, the Spokesman has been marketed as a package with The Bulletin, the flagship paper of Western Communications. The court has not yet received any proposals to buy the Central Oregon publications.
The proposals would generate a combined $1.39 million for the Bend-based newspaper chain’s main creditor, Sandton Credit Solutions. Sandton holds the mortgage on Western Communications’ headquarters building in Bend, a 86,440-square-foot print/newspaper facility built in 2000.