The long-anticipated and overdue sale of the Riverside Press-Enterprise to the owner of the Orange County Register has finally closed, according to the companies in the transaction.
In a statement late Thursday, publisher A.H. Belo Corp., which agreed to sell the daily newspaper early last month, confirmed that the $27.25-million deal had been completed. The Inland Empire's largest daily now belongs to Freedom Communications, which already publishes the Register and several other Southern California papers.
"We are pleased the transaction has closed, and wish our colleagues in Riverside all the best as they go forward as part of Freedom," said Jim Moroney, chairman and chief executive of Belo.
The sale, first announced in early October, had been scheduled to close by Oct. 15. Early this month, that deadline was pushed back to Nov. 15; that date passed last week with silence.
The delay fueled speculation that Freedom, which is controlled by former greeting card company executive Aaron Kushner, was having difficulties coming up with the cash to finance the purchase.
Those fears were bolstered by news that Belo had added numerous new terms to the deal, including a requirement that Kushner put down $1 million in cash, nonrefundable, to keep negotiations open. In addition, Belo said it reserved the right to speak to other potential bidders, and Monday it threatened to sue Kushner to enforce the terms of the purchase agreement.
Kushner relied heavily on outside financing to pay for his acquisition of Freedom last year, and has said that the company is not profitable through the first two quarters of the year.
But the announcement that the Press-Enterprise's sale had closed did not contain any information about how the deal was paid for, and a spokesman for Freedom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Freedom adds the Press-Enterprise -- which had a Sunday print circulation of 267,121 as of Sept. 30, according to the Alliance of Audited Media -- to a growing stable of newspapers. In addition to the Register, Freedom controls the Daily Press in Victorville and the Desert Dispatch in Barstow. This year, Freedom also launched a new daily, the Long Beach Register.
The Press-Enterprise is expected to provide Kushner with some cost-saving synergies, while expanding the company's reach to a new area. Riverside and San Bernardino counties, however, are among the nation's most economically challenged and present a strikingly different demographic to advertisers than does Orange County.
For Belo, the sale reduces its stable of daily papers to just two, the Dallas Morning News and the Providence Journal. Belo sold the Press-Enterprise Building for nearly $30 million over the summer.
Belo shares rose 22 cents to $7.28 in trading prior to the announcement.
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