PHILADELPHIA – A cable TV magnate completed an $88 million deal Wednesday to take over Philadelphia’s largest newspapers after a bitter court fight and the sudden death of his business partner.
H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest became the sole owner of the troubled company that operates The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. The company has lost millions of dollars and hundreds of workers as it churned through six ownership groups in the past eight years.
Lenfest, 84, is travelling overseas and has not returned messages left this week by The Associated Press.
A major philanthropist in the region, he had chipped in $10 million two years ago when a group of powerful business leaders bought the paper at the urging of former Gov. Ed Rendell. A feud between two of them, Democratic powerbroker George Norcross and former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz, led to the latest sale last month.
Katz and Lenfest bid $88 million to win the auction, and pledged to fund in-depth journalism under Inquirer editor William K. Marimow, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
Then Katz, whose longtime companion is the Inquirer’s city editor, died in a plane crash May 31. His son Drew stepped up to take his place, but thought the better of it this week, selling his father’s $16 million stake to Lenfest hours before the sale closed.
“Because of the turmoil of the last ten days, I have made a decision that it would be in the best interests of The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com for me to sell my interest in the company,” Drew Katz, 42, said in a statement. “I believe strongly that the organization would be in excellent hands under the ownership of Gerry Lenfest now and in the years to come.”
Lenfest was expected to put in another $42 million to buy out the Norcross faction, not counting his payment to Drew Katz.
“We’re confident we made a positive impact and that the company will go on to future success,” Norcross and his partners said in a statement.