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Timberwolves owner Taylor eyed Star Tribune for years

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Timberwolves owner
Businessman Glen Taylor is the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team.
MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen, file

Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor expects to close on his purchase of the Star Tribune by the end of next month, fulfilling a goal he has had for years.

When the Star Tribune was coming out of bankruptcy about five years ago, Taylor thought it could rebound financially and it seemed a good buy.

But there was a rub: too many would have had a say in running the paper.

"The only thing I couldn't see a path to was to getting control," he said. "In other words, I would end up being one of many partners, and I didn't want to do that."

But Taylor has kept his eye on the paper and how it dealt with advertising, circulation and other challenges. He was impressed to see the paper was in the black and running well.

Taylor, a former Republican state senator who owns companies in the wedding invitation and other printing businesses, figured the paper could continue to be profitable, though not as profitable as his other enterprises. But he felt a civic duty to help assure that the Twin Cities continues to have a journalistically strong daily newspaper and he thought running it would be fun and intellectually stimulating.

Last year, when he heard the Star Tribune could be for sale, Taylor signaled his interest to the majority owner, the Wayzata Investment Partners private equity firm.  But he made it clear he wanted the paper's downtown real estate sold first.

"I didn't want to end up owning four blocks [in] downtown Minneapolis," he said. "I'm not in the real estate business."

Taylor said he made an offer for the paper within a week after the $40 million sale of the Star Tribune's long-time Portland Avenue headquarters and other property was finalized last month.

The agreement came together fast.

"I never left Mankato after that. I just told my lawyers and they talked to their lawyers and that's how we handled it," he said.  "I made them an offer. They made a counter-offer and then I made a counter-offer. And it was done.  And that all happened within just several days."

Taylor said he doesn't know whether he was up against any other bidders. But he said the paper's leadership was key to his interest. Taylor said he had met publisher Michael Klingensmith and his management team several times and was confident in their ability to run the paper well.

"If wouldn't have liked him or been intrigued with him, I would not have gone ahead, because I don't have resources within my own company to run a paper and I would not have been interested," he said. "It was that team that excited me."

Taylor has vowed not to meddle with news and editorial decisions, a pledge that applies to the newspaper's coverage his two basketball teams -- the Minnesota Lynx and the Minnesota Timberwolves -- even if he doesn't like a story in the works.

"So what do I gain by stifling one part of the news media? I don't think I gain anything there."

Blocking accurate, newsworthy stories by Star Tribune reporters would be bad for business, Taylor said.

"If they don't, someone else is going to do it," Taylor said of stories in the papers reporters might be working on. "So what do I gain by stifling one part of the news media? I don't think I gain anything there."

Former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a Democrat, predicts his former colleague will abide by those words. Taylor served in the Senate from 1981 to 1990, including a stint as minority leader.     "He wants a good newspaper," Moe said. "He's not the kind of person who's going to be sticking his nose in the editorial page. He'll want good factual reporters. He'll be an outstanding owner of that newspaper. It's just great that we have a Minnesotans willing to take it on."

It may not be too long before Taylor has a chance to buy another newspaper: the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

A number of industry watchers say the paper's owners may soon put it up for sale, hoping to exit the newspaper business.

Taylor said he'd probably take a look. But before he made an offer he'd need to know the financial condition of the Pioneer Press and the potential for the Twin Cities to support two daily newspapers. 

But there are other factors to consider, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute.

"Assuming he were to buy it would he continue to operate it separately?" he said. "Would it be folded into the Star Tribune?"

Edmonds said there also could be anti-trust concerns arising from Taylor owning both papers. He said federal officials might block such as sale if it violates anti-trust laws enacted to prevent companies from obtaining a monopoly.

"Unfortunately for him or somebody in that position," Edmonds said, "he can't just call the Justice Department and ask, 'Is this OK?'"

On the other hand, Edmonds points out even a dead newspaper has value - in its circulation and advertising lists, trucks, buildings and other assets.

If Taylor acquires the Star Tribune as expected, he could try to buy the Pioneer Press for its assets and shut it down, hoping to realize gains in circulation and ad revenue, Edmonds said.