A plan by Freedom Communications insiders to buy the assets of the bankrupt newspaper company is in danger of losing a key backer, jeopardizing their effort to retain control of the Orange County Register.
Santa Ana real estate developer Mike Harrah said his hesitation had already prevented the group from submitting a planned early bid for the company. On Friday, he told the Los Angeles Times that he may back out entirely.
"I thought the paper was making a lot more money than it was," Harrah said. "To this day I don't know what the paper is worth.... Maybe, just maybe, it's better off that we don't buy it."
Without Harrah's money, it is unclear whether the investor group — which includes Freedom Chief Executive and Register Publisher Rich Mirman and Freedom Chairman Eric Spitz — could proceed on its own.
"If Harrah is out of the bid, it could be that the ownership group basically folds," media industry analyst Ken Doctor said. He noted, though, that Spitz and Mirman could seek other backers and that there are other investors interested in Freedom's land.
If the insiders can't put together a bid by March 11, that would leave Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Publishing and Los Angeles Daily News owner Digital First Media as the only two companies that have confirmed interest in acquiring Freedom's assets, which include the Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
In a statement Friday, Freedom spokesman Eric Morgan did not address Harrah's concerns but said the developer is still part of the investor group.
"We are honored to be working with Mike Harrah in preparation for our bid for Freedom Communications. Mike has a long history of success in the growth and revitalization of local businesses, and is enthusiastic about preserving local ownership of the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise," Morgan said.
But with the bid deadline approaching, Harrah said he still didn't have all the information he needed.