Businessman Lewis Katz and philanthropist H.G. “Gerry” Lenfest will take over Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers from their partners with an $88 million auction bid.
Katz and another businessman, George Norcross, had bought The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philly.com news website for $55 million in 2012. But they began feuding and competed to take control at Tuesday’s auction.
Katz made his fortune investing in the Kinney Parking empire and the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in New York. He supports the investigative reporting favored by current Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.
Norcross is one of the most powerful figures in Philadelphia’s southern New Jersey suburbs, with interests in media, health care, education, banking, insurance and politics. He wanted to steer coverage toward more local news and sports.
Norcross owned 52 percent of the company, while Katz held a 26 percent stake and his ally Lenfest, a former cable magnate, had a 16 percent stake.
Katz and Lenfest were expected to speak about the purchase later Tuesday.
“We are happy for the company’s employees, readers and advertisers that this issue is now resolved. It is time to return the company’s focus to journalism, and away from conflict among its owners,” the Norcross ownership faction said in a statement.
Norcross said the company during their joint reign had streamlined operations and moved toward “the path to profitability.”
The company went from $500 million in revenue and 3,000 employees in 2002 to one with just over $200 million in revenues and 2,000 full- and part-time employees.
The increasingly bitter feud between Katz and Norcross became public last fall when Marimow was fired. Katz sued, charging that Norcross needed his vote to make the move, and a judge agreed, returning Marimow to the newsroom.
The fight comes at a critical time, as the Philadelphia newspapers and the industry try to reverse years of revenue declines and wrangle profits from digital operations. Digital revenues at the company have fallen below what they were in 2006, according to court testimony.