A federal bankruptcy judge in Oregon has approved the sale of The Union Democrat and its downtown Sonora building to Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers for $1.15 million.
Judge Trish M. Brown in Portland authorized the sale. Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, known as RISN, will take ownership on July 31.
The sale stems from Western Communications’ filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, citing $29 million in debt. The company initially sought to restructure but then decided to liquidate.
In addition to The Union Democrat, the company has sold four newspapers in Oregon. A decision on the sale of the flagship paper in Bend, The Bulletin, will be made Monday. RISN made an initial offer for The Bulletin of $2.25 million, but this week EO Media offered $2.5 million.
The Bulletin reported that unnamed Bend residents offered EO Media financial backing for the purchase.
EO Media also bought Western Communications’ papers in La Grande and Baker City in Oregon last month.
Adams Publishing Group made an offer on The Bulletin as well, of $2.35 million.
An auction will be held in the offices of Western Communications’ lawyers on Monday morning and the sale will be finalized by the court that afternoon. The sale includes The Bulletin’s weekly publication, the Redmond Spokesman.
“There’s strong support from the community for us to acquire The Bulletin,” Heidi Wright, chief operating officer of EO Media Group, told The Bulletin.
The Union Democrat marks its 165 year this month. It has operated from its historic Washington Street building since 1965, six years after Harvey and Helen McGee bought the afternoon newspaper.
Helen McGee sold to Western Communications in 1998 after Harvey McGee’s death earlier that year.
Western Communications expanded The Union Democrat printing/circulation operations when it bought a plant on Camage Avenue. The company sold that building earlier this year for about $1 million after moving the circulation department to the downtown building and contracting with the Sacramento Bee for printing.
Wescom, as it is known, also changed the publishing schedule to mornings about four years ago.
So far, Western Communications has brought in about $3.5 million in newspaper and real estate sales.
EO Media Group paid $775,000 for The Observer in La Grande and the Baker City Herald. Country Media Inc. paid $350,000 for the Del Norte Triplicate in Crescent City, California, and the Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings, Oregon. Western Communications sold the Redmond newspaper building for $245,000.
The newspaper company’s largest asset — its headquarters in Bend — will be the last property to be sold. Built in 2000, the 86,445-square-foot building was most recently marketed for $18 million. It is located two miles west of downtown Bend on 9.78 acres adjacent to Oregon State University Cascades.
None of the bidders for The Bulletin offered to buy the building, which is considered Class A office space.
According to court filings, the major creditor is Sandton Credit Solutions, which assumed the debt after the company came out of its first Chapter 11 filed in 2011.
Founded in December 2006, RISN 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.
Steven Malkowich, executive vice president of RISN, said last month RISN is one of several companies with different investors that operates newspapers in California, 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.