Businessman and philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest took control of The Inquirer and its parent company Wednesday with the formal closing of a May 27 auction sale of the property for $88 million.
With the closing completed, Lenfest, 84, has still to finish a purchase of the interest of the son of his late partner, Lewis Katz. Katz was killed in a plane crash May 31, leaving his son, Drew, as co-purchaser of Interstate General Media Holdings L.L.C.
In the short time since his father's death, Drew Katz concluded that he no longer wished to be part of the deal. He confirmed Tuesday that he was selling his share to Lenfest. Negotiations on that sale were ongoing Wednesday.
The closing was done in private with the exchange sales documents handled by lawyers for the two sides in the agreement - Lenfest and a group led by South Jersey businessman George E. Norcross III. Lenfest was in Europe on a prescheduled trip to Berlin and Vienna.
Norcross and his partners - William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew - issued a statement announcing the closing.
"We have had the opportunity to work with Gerry over the last two years and are confident he will do all he can to make the papers and Philly.com strong, vibrant journalism outlets," the statement read.
William K. Marimow, editor of The Inquirer, offered his own endorsement of Lenfest.
"I know Gerry Lenfest to be a man of bedrock integrity who is committed not only to public service journalism, but also doing everything possible to improve the lives of people in the Philadelphia region," he said.
Both Katz and Lenfest, through spokesmen, said they would have no comment on the sale at this time.
The sale is the fifth time the Inquirer has changed hands in eight years. The last time the paper was controlled by a single individual was 1969 when it was owned by Lenfest's former boss, Walter H. Annenberg.
Lenfest earned his fortune when he bought a small cable division from Annenberg's Triangle Publications Inc. and turned it into Suburban Cable, which had more than a million subscribers when it was sold to Comcast Corp. in 2000 in a deal valued at about $7.2 billion. The Lenfest family controlled 50 percent of the cable company at the time of the sale. Since then, Lenfest has emerged as a leading regional philanthropist.
Lenfest is serving as interim publisher for the company while a permanent publisher is sought. He announced last week that former publisher Brian P. Tierney would serve as an advertising consultant to the company. In addition, former Philadelphia Daily News publisher Mark Frisby has been brought back to serve as associate publisher for operations.
Lenfest, Norcross and Katz were among six local investors who in 2012 formed IGM, which includes The Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, after paying $61 million for the properties. The company employs about 1,800 people.
After the purchase, there was a very public falling-out among the owners, primarily Lewis Katz and Norcross. The May 27 auction was to resolve the dispute. Lenfest and Katz teamed to make the winning bid against Norcross and the co-owners aligned with him.
Katz, 72, had barely time to savor his purchase of the paper when he was killed returning from a charity function in Concord, Mass.
His son was expected to take his place and run the company with Lenfest. Tuesday night, however, Drew Katz announced he was selling to Lenfest.
"Because of the turmoil of the last 10 days, I have made the decision it would be in the best interests of The Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com to sell my interest in the company," he said.
"I believe strongly that the organization would be in excellent hands under the ownership of Gerry Lenfest now and in the years to come."
Katz declined to discuss the details of his negotiations with Lenfest, but the website Big Trial, citing anonymous sources, said Katz would receive $16 million, which would equal his father's original investment.
While Lenfest is buying Katz out, other potential investors may be in the wings.
William A. "Bill" Graham IV, chairman and chief executive officer of an insurance brokerage, said he was approached by Lewis Katz to be one of 10 investors who would put up $1 million each to provide financial backing for the new ownership group.
Graham said Wednesday that he wired Katz and Lenfest $1 million last week. He expects to sign a formal partnership agreement, he said, once he has an opportunity to review the sale documents.