The San Diego footprint of Douglas Manchester, the Republican financial kingpin who likes to be called "Papa,” has been poised to shrink substantially with the putative sale of his U-T San Diego newspaper operation.
Now comes word via the U-T, that the voluble real estate developer has unloaded a majority interest in his Grand Del Mar resort to none other than Richard Blum, rich and controversial husband of Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, and the Fairmont Hotels chain.
"This represents a diversification of our investments and is an opportunity to invest with Blum Capital and Fairmont," the paper quoted Manchester second-in-command Richard Gibbons as saying.
"While the actual purchase price was not disclosed, Gibbons said Fairmont and financier Richard Blum of Blum Capital Partners will be acquiring an 88 percent share of the resort, valued at $230 million. The 249-room Carmel Valley hotel made its debut in October 2007."
As reported here last October, Manchester cut a deal with the city to remedy years of environmental violations at the resort, clearing the way for a possible sale. The arrangement was not wholeheartedly supported by planning commissioner James Whalen, who said of Manchester's long string of permit breaches, "The behavior of this developer impugns all developers."
Manchester reached his deal with the city following the takeover of planning powers by GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer, to whose cause the publisher had heavily contributed. At the time the permit was approved, a lawyer for Manchester denied the property was on the market.
Besides the hotel deal, there are other signs Manchester is in retreat. According to the U-T: "Last weekend, Manchester closed his La Jolla restaurant, Bijou, which he opened two years earlier as Amaya."
Meanwhile, the twisted tug-of-war for control of Manchester's U-T San Diego and its remaining political influence continues to play out on the newspaper's pages and behind the scenes among local power brokers, say informed observers who point to two fresh developments.
The first comes in the form of a March 25 editorial blast against Chargers owner Dean Spanos, long the newspaper's darling, who it now casts as the prime villain in the team's putative move to L.A.
"Chargers president Dean Spanos still publicly insists he wants to keep the team here, but every move the team makes behind the scenes says otherwise,” the editorial maintains.
"Perhaps our own desire to see the team remain in San Diego, along with our desire to believe Spanos when he said he wants to stay, blinded us to reality.”
Adds the paper, "If this team ends up in Los Angeles, it won’t be because ownership exhausted all opportunities to reach a deal in San Diego. It will be because, when it came to crunch time, they didn’t try."
The concession by U-T editorialists that the Chargers move may be inevitable appears to be at odds with a March 26 story on its website, under the byline of sports writer Nick Canepa, hailing a move by San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and his fellow Republican county supervisor Ron Roberts, to dump taxpayer money into an effort to ply the team with a big stadium subsidy.
"The immediate plan is to share costs to bring in consultants and attorneys," according to Canepa's story.
The apparent split between the news and editorial voices of the once-proud newspaper is something new for the U-T, political insiders note. The paper helped orchestrate Faulconer's election as mayor last year at the same time its publisher, mega-millionaire GOP real estate kingpin Douglas Manchester, was making $356,000 in campaign contributions.
The schism comes amid continuing reports that Manchester intends to unload the troubled media operation. Potential power players in a would-be change of command reportedly include Chicago's Tribune Publishing; Point Loma real estate mogul and yachtsman Malin Burnham; and radio entrepreneur John Lynch, Manchester's original partner in the U-T purchase.
Media watchers think they may have spotted yet another contender, or a guise for one of the current hopefuls, in the form of a Rancho Santa Fe–based company called New Age Media Enterprises, which is advertising online for a chief financial officer.
"New Age Media enterprises is a newly formed LLC, located in San Diego, California, which is acquiring several traditional media assets and transforming them into a multi-media, multi-platform Company," the employment notice says.
"New Age has contracted to acquire several major newspaper and broadcast assets and their digital assets. The Company is fully funded and will have significant [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.]"
Adds the advertisement, "The first acquisition is scheduled to close in early April. Accordingly, the candidate will be required to join New Age soon. New Age will have approximately 800 to 1000 employees. The Company will likely continue to acquire additional media assets in other major markets."
Those following the U-T intrigue note that New Age's multimedia game plan sounds a lot like Rancho Santa Fe resident Lynch's line at the paper before he was kicked upstairs in February of last year — reportedly to work on acquisitions — just before the costly cable TV operation he had set up went dark.