Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is poised to buy the Star Tribune, Minnesota's largest newspaper.
Taylor, a billionaire, said he is purchasing the paper as a business investment, but that the community will also benefit from keeping it under local control.
"Being Minnesota-owned, I think is to the advantage of the paper," he said. "That gives the paper more of a long-term view of how to do things, make investments and to plan for the future."
Taylor told the newspaper he made a cash offer that did not include any other investors, but he declined to name the price.
"We have an agreement with the people purchasing it that we can't divulge that," Taylor said. "It's at a price that I think makes good business sense, and obviously the sellers were satisfied with it."
Wayzata Investment Partners has been the newspaper's largest shareholder for the last four years. The firm took over following the newspaper's Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.
Taylor's bid is evidence of the progress the newspaper has made since its bankruptcy, Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael Klingensmith said in a statement.
"As a company, we have felt that the best possible ownership situation for the Star Tribune — as we've seen in other markets recently — would be to have a long-term, local owner who knows and is vested in our community," Klingensmith said in a statement.
Star Tribune employees heard about the deal on Tuesday afternoon. Mike Hughlett, co-chair of the Star Tribune unit of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, said union officials believe the guild contract stays in place through the sale.
"Taylor is a known entity and he's a Minnesotan, so from what we gather he's going to keep the management here in place, so at least it seems like it's going to be stability," Hughlett said.
While Taylor declined to say what he's offering for the Star Tribune, there's no doubt its value has dropped dramatically over the past 16 years.
In 1998, the McClatchy Co. paid $1.2 billion for the paper. Like the rest of the newspaper industry, however, the Star Tribune was torpedoed by a recession in the early 2000s recession and a dramatic drop in newspaper advertising.
By 2006, the Star Tribune's value had fallen by more than half, to $530 million. In 2009, with the country mired in the Great Recession, the paper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The paper says it had 1,225 employees in February, down about 25 percent from 1,627 workers in December 2008.
The Star Tribune and the newspaper business have recovered somewhat, but values remain dramatically lower than they once were.
After purchasing the Boston Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993, for instance, the New York Times Co. sold the paper to Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry last year for $70 million.
While some worry about the Star Tribune's editorial independence under Taylor, Henry's ownership of the Globe might offer a template.
Last month, the Globe ran an explosive article about Jared Remy, the son of Jerry Remy, the sports network's color announcer for Sox TV broadcasts and a Red Sox icon.
Jared Remy is accused of killing his girlfriend. The article detailed how the Red Sox announcer hired a pricey lawyer time after time to get his belligerent son out of trouble with the law.
"A lot of us looked at this as the people at the Globe saying, 'Look Mr. Henry. We're going to go do our thing.' And they certainly did," said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University. "In some ways, you could look at it as a declaration of independence."
Kennedy covered the media for more than a decade for the Boston Phoenix. For much of that time, the New York Times owned the Globe and a piece of the Red Sox. He said he's never been aware of the Globe killing a tough story on the hometown team.
Taylor said he could see his companies collaborating with the Star Tribune in the area of technology, but said he expects the Star Tribune's coverage of his other businesses to remain independent. He said he will not join the paper's board or management team or influence its stances.
"The newspaper, in order to compete in the future, will have to continually change into digital and mobile devices and other types of communications with its customers," Taylor said. "We'll be able to move faster working together and probably save some money."
Taylor, 72, was raised on a farm 60 miles west of Mankato, Minn. He graduated from Comfrey High School in 1959. Three years later, he received his bachelor's degree in math, physics and social science from Mankato State University. He later studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Business.
Taylor started assembling his family-owned empire in 1975, when he bought the firm he was working for — Carlson Wedding Service. It was a print shop specializing in formal invitations.
That print shop was the foundation for Taylor Corp., now one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, with estimated annual sales of about $1.5 billion and 9,000 employees. The company has more than 80 subsidiaries. Most are involved in packaging, marketing or printing. The company prints everything from wedding invitations and greeting cards to yearbooks and training manuals.
In 1995, Taylor became majority owner of the Timberwolves. In 1999, he took control of the Minnesota Lynx, the WNBA women's basketball team.
Taylor also owns farmland in Iowa and Minnesota and a company that produces liquefied, pasteurized eggs, according to Forbes, which puts his net worth at about $1.8 billion.
Taylor has also been involved in politics. He served for a decade in the Minnesota Senate and as Republican minority leader from 1984 to 1986.
He's shown interest before in the Star Tribune.
In 2009, he and publisher Vance Opperman put in a bid to acquire an ownership stake of 25 to 35 percent of the paper. The two men made their unsuccessful offer through an investment fund they co-own.
Star Tribune spokespeople said the company is doing its due diligence on Taylor's offer. If all goes through, they expect to close the deal this spring.
Taylor acknowledged he probably won't agree with every decision by the paper's management, "but I can say that about my Timberwolves sometimes too. But I hire very good people to do it and expect them to do the very best job — I think that's the way it will be handled in the future."