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For sale: Southeast SD’s complex of death

Cemetery and mortuaries to be bought by Texas funeral giant

A major real estate wheeler-dealer from Houston is set to take over a big chunk of Southeast San Diego real estate, and the tenants aren't in a position to make a fuss about it.

Greenwood Memorial Park and Mortuary on Imperial Avenue and the Clairemont Mortuary on Mount Abernathy Avenue are to be sold by Service Corporation International, another Houston enterprise, to NorthStar Memorial Group in a deal mandated by the anti-trust division of the Federal Trade Commission.

The government is forcing Service Corporation International to spin off various funeral homes and cemeteries in its sizable collection as a condition for permission to proceed with its acquisition of Stewart Enterprises, Inc., yet another giant in the death business, based in Jefferson, Louisiana.

The FTC's public comment period for the sale has just ended and a final decision is expected before the end of the year.

"NorthStar Memorial Group is a privately held funeral, cremation and memorialization company founded on the belief that passion, accountability, courage, and trust are the keys to building a successful organization," says the company’s website. "That belief allows us to focus on our three-core principals to care for the dead, comfort the living, and plan for the inevitable."

"It is our belief that pre-planning and pre-payment of final arrangements is one of the most thoughtful and caring things a person can do for their loved ones."

According to its site, NorthStar is run by William Mark Hamilton, who "has over 20 years of professional experience in a broad range of responsibilities including corporate acquisitions, financial management, corporate development, operational management and sales leadership."

Records show Hamilton previously worked for Service Corporation International. In February 2008, he told a reporter for the Tulsa World that NorthStar "often acquires family-run funeral homes that are unable to find a successor."

The monetary value of the San Diego deal, which includes 11 other operations in Florida and Texas, is a dark secret, according to a redacted petition posted online by the FTC.

"NorthStar intends to pay the purchase price for the Divestiture Assets [redacted] . NorthStar is wholly owned by NorthStar Evergreen, LLC ("NS-Evergreen"). NS-Evergreen has five members. The members of NS-Evergreen have committed up to [redacted] in equity contributions to consummate the transactions contemplated herein."

Service Corporation International’s buy-out of Stewart wasn't without controversy, according to a December BusinessWeek report.

"Advocates for funeral customers had passionately opposed the SCI-Stewart combination, announced last May, complaining that when SCI comes to town, prices tend to rise and service deteriorates," said the account.

"SCI, it will not surprise you to know, contends that it provides better death-care service for the bereaved’s dollar. In response, the FTC investigated and found that the proposed $1.4 billion deal would indeed probably lessen competition in 59 communities throughout the U.S."

"Not to worry, the regulatory agency added: The FTC and SCI came up with a plan requiring the Houston-based pioneer of chain funeral establishments to sell 53 funeral homes and 38 cemeteries. With that trimming, the FTC said on Dec. 23 that the deal could move ahead, giving SCI a 15 percent share of the national funeral market.”

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A major real estate wheeler-dealer from Houston is set to take over a big chunk of Southeast San Diego real estate, and the tenants aren't in a position to make a fuss about it.

Greenwood Memorial Park and Mortuary on Imperial Avenue and the Clairemont Mortuary on Mount Abernathy Avenue are to be sold by Service Corporation International, another Houston enterprise, to NorthStar Memorial Group in a deal mandated by the anti-trust division of the Federal Trade Commission.

The government is forcing Service Corporation International to spin off various funeral homes and cemeteries in its sizable collection as a condition for permission to proceed with its acquisition of Stewart Enterprises, Inc., yet another giant in the death business, based in Jefferson, Louisiana.

The FTC's public comment period for the sale has just ended and a final decision is expected before the end of the year.

"NorthStar Memorial Group is a privately held funeral, cremation and memorialization company founded on the belief that passion, accountability, courage, and trust are the keys to building a successful organization," says the company’s website. "That belief allows us to focus on our three-core principals to care for the dead, comfort the living, and plan for the inevitable."

"It is our belief that pre-planning and pre-payment of final arrangements is one of the most thoughtful and caring things a person can do for their loved ones."

According to its site, NorthStar is run by William Mark Hamilton, who "has over 20 years of professional experience in a broad range of responsibilities including corporate acquisitions, financial management, corporate development, operational management and sales leadership."

Records show Hamilton previously worked for Service Corporation International. In February 2008, he told a reporter for the Tulsa World that NorthStar "often acquires family-run funeral homes that are unable to find a successor."

The monetary value of the San Diego deal, which includes 11 other operations in Florida and Texas, is a dark secret, according to a redacted petition posted online by the FTC.

"NorthStar intends to pay the purchase price for the Divestiture Assets [redacted] . NorthStar is wholly owned by NorthStar Evergreen, LLC ("NS-Evergreen"). NS-Evergreen has five members. The members of NS-Evergreen have committed up to [redacted] in equity contributions to consummate the transactions contemplated herein."

Service Corporation International’s buy-out of Stewart wasn't without controversy, according to a December BusinessWeek report.

"Advocates for funeral customers had passionately opposed the SCI-Stewart combination, announced last May, complaining that when SCI comes to town, prices tend to rise and service deteriorates," said the account.

"SCI, it will not surprise you to know, contends that it provides better death-care service for the bereaved’s dollar. In response, the FTC investigated and found that the proposed $1.4 billion deal would indeed probably lessen competition in 59 communities throughout the U.S."

"Not to worry, the regulatory agency added: The FTC and SCI came up with a plan requiring the Houston-based pioneer of chain funeral establishments to sell 53 funeral homes and 38 cemeteries. With that trimming, the FTC said on Dec. 23 that the deal could move ahead, giving SCI a 15 percent share of the national funeral market.”

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2

My parents and my mother's parents and grandparents are in the ground at Greenwood at Imperial Ave. I thought it was a pretty park when we went there ages ago to visit her family. Since I went through watching my own parents be buried alongside the graves we used to visit together, I don't believe in family plots like they did. Too sad to visit. They called me probably a week after my mother's funeral my when feelings were raw to pitch a plot sale and save a spot for me. How many bodies can they spread over the landscape? Now they stack then down by 2 in the same space. It's all disturbing and expensive, thousands, and you can choose to embalm or not now. You probably don't want to know this, but my late husband is in a lovely urn at home with me and I don't have to leave the house to visit.

June 13, 2014

Ah, worrying about the "bereaved's" bang-for-the buck. It doesn't fill me with confidence that this outfit will have cornered 15% of the "funeral market" in the United States.

But I do like their Digby O'Dell credo about caring for the dead, comforting the living and planning for the inevitable. Isn't that a riff on what newspapers are supposed to do: afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted while dealing with inevitable extinction-by-internet?

(I have to say the Reader's new yellow headlines are misleading: "complex of death?" That's not exactly what cemeteries are.)

June 14, 2014

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