Taylor on Star Tribune investment: No ‘miracle solution,’ but many ideas

Just got off the phone with Glen Taylor, who along with Vance Opperman seeks to buy a significant minority stake in the Star Tribune by the end of next month.

As expected, the Mankato-based billionaire, Timberwolves owner, and major Republican donor insists he and Opperman won’t politically influence the paper. “I don’t think I’m that much involved in politics any more,” Taylor says, who has made hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donations this decade. “I’ve helped some candidates, as has Vance, through contributions.”

Taylor chuckled when asked if he and DFLer Opperman had paired up to blunt political concerns. “Vance I went into this together, and I’ve known Vance for a long time,” he says. “We’ve worked together on community stuff; we chaired a board on education some years back. That part of our philosophies, both having an interest in the state, is what brought us together.”

A decade and a half ago, Taylor stepped up to keep the Timberwolves from being sold to out-of-town owners. While the Strib’s concern is survival, he says something of the same dynamic is at play here.

“Our interest is a broader one, in the sense that it’s important to have good news media in any community,” Taylor explains. “Our thoughts were that, as the ownership drifted toward the bond companies, out-of-state people were moving in and it would be good to have local owners back.”

Taylor says he and Opperman became interested last year, as the paper was sliding toward bankruptcy, but waited until Chapter 11 played itself out.

A starting point?
Taylor says he and Opperman have offered $16.41 a share for no less than 25 percent and no more than 35 percent of the Strib.

Why not go for control? “Well, let’s just say this is what we’re offering today,” he replies. “At this point, we want to see what’s available. I don’t think we want to say it’s the last step or the only step.”

Taylor agreed that given his and Opperman’s wealth, up to $8 million for a Strib stake represented a pretty small risk. “For Vance and I, this isn’t something that’s going to make a significant difference in what we’re doing,” he says. “At this price, if we do it well, there’s some upside to it. If for some reason we miscalculate, things for us can keep going as we’re going. Both of us can afford it.”

Asked about the challenge of the Strib’s $100 million debt, he said, “At least it’s not my [personal] debt. It doesn’t scare me.”

‘Not going in without ideas’
Taylor will not go in to the operation passively.

I asked Taylor if he or Opperman had any miracle ideas to save the newspaper business, given plunging revenues. He laughed. “I would say to you we don’t have the miracle solution. But we have consulted with other people and have ideas of what we would do. We’re not going in without ideas.”

He wouldn’t get specific about those plans or advisors, calling such disclosure “premature.” Did Taylor’s ideas assume steady employment, or managing shrinkage? Again, he declaimed specifics.

Does Taylor anticipate a problem owning and directing a union paper? “I would say I’m aware of of the difficulties; I’ve read all the contracts,” he said matter-of-factly. “It is a concern in the newspaper business. The good news is, the unions are aware of the difficulties, too.”

Is the sports owner’s interest a real estate play? After all, in many recent newspaper deals, property has been the major driver, and a new Vikings stadium could mean a nice payday for the Strib’s Metrodome-area blocks. “That wasn’t in our consideration,” Taylor says. “We’re aware of that, obviously.”

There is one Wolves-related connection to the deal. Bill Farley, a pal of soon-to-be-ex-publisher Chris Harte, sat on the Timberwolves board when U.S. Bank had a minority stake. Farley became a Strib board member post-bankruptcy.

Taylor has not spoken directly to the Strib’s owners, though he’s hired a firm to do so, and says he “doesn’t know” if they will tender their shares at his price. Still, the offer’s one-month timeframe doesn’t leave much room for indecision. “I think it’s a relatively easy decision on their part,” Taylor observes. “They can go either way — sell it or hold long-term for equity.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Susan Peterson on 10/28/2009 - 03:34 pm.

    I think this is nothing but good news for the Strib’s survival. These are two very smart civic-minded local business people, and the fact that they are willing to invest in their community’s newspaper tells me there is hope for some kind of a viable business model, even if it’s not clear what that is yet.

  2. Submitted by karl anderson on 10/28/2009 - 03:41 pm.

    Good to here we are looking at local ownership!

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/29/2009 - 06:20 am.

    “I think it’s a relatively easy decision on their part,” Taylor observes. “They can go either way — sell it or hold long-term for equity.”

    Taylor is right of course. The real question isn’t whether the Strib will accept the money, of course they will. As Taylor hints above, equity in the Star Tribune probably doesn’t exist in the long term. The question is why are Taylor and Opperman offering it?

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