Bye-Bye, New Times

The 'Voice' Dodges a Hostile Takeover

Meanwhile, even as Stern swore he would not sell to New Times, his bankers solicited a bid from NT and gave them the "book" with financial details on the chain, according to NT's Jim Larkin. Mike Lacey is said to have spent time in New York during the bidding period, and Schneiderman met with Lacey in L.A. One source claims that NT placed two bids, the second of which Stern entertained as late as December. Indeed, New Times was said to be so sure they had it locked up that they were working on a "hit list" of Stern employees to fire—a rumor that Larkin calls "bullshit."

Larkin says he was told in mid-December that "everybody had dropped out and we were the final bidders." He says he and Lacey had lined up major financing from Roger Altman's Evercore Partners, which owns six tabloids including The National Examiner, the Star, and the Weekly World News. But, he says, "the day before we were to put the bid on the table, our deal blew up," because his bankers wanted a majority stake in the combined companies.

A spokesman for Evercore could not be reached for comment. Schneiderman declined to comment on any aspect of the New Times bid, and Stern banker Robert Broadwater pointed out that anyone who received a copy of the "book" remains sworn to secrecy about the bidding process.

Cut to the Nashville group: On December 13, Del Favero and Dobie announced they had sold a stake in the Scene to Weiss, Peck. Meanwhile, they had joined Art Howe and his partners, the radio executives Mike Craven and Jim Thompson, to create a new holding company for the purpose of rolling up alt-weeklies. Their first target: ACE Magazine in Lexington, Kentucky, which the group now expects to close on by the end of January. Del Favero told a reporter that the formation of the holding company "had nothing to do with the Stern sale."

So now there were five men with minority shares in the holding company. But they needed a sixth to land the Stern chain. On December 20, as Schneiderman was getting ready to go on vacation, he got a call from one of Stern's bankers, who said, "We got a deal from Weiss, Peck. Are you in? They're not in without you." Schneiderman calls the assorted Weiss, Peck investors "good businessmen" and their proposed deal a "nice mesh" of everyone's interests. To sweeten the deal, Howe relinquished his role as CEO of the company, which was renamed Village Voice Media.

It's been billed as a happy ending, but there are still some unanswered questions: Why did Stern promise not to sell to Larkin and Lacey, and then entertain their bid? Did NT submit the highest bid? Presuming that NT would stick to its terms, some observers are wondering if Stern ever took the bid from NT seriously. As one put it, "Did he jerk them along to jack the price up?" The buyers of Village Voice Media declined to name the exact price they paid.

ccotts@villagevoice.com

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