Amy Chu 8:30 a.m., Sept. 15
Manchester Purchase of Union-Tribune Raises Questions of Timing
Word this morning that Doug Manchester is buying the Union-Tribune may help explain some recent editorializing by the paper.
Don Bauder first reported here on September 29 about rumors circulating that Platinum Equity, the Beverly Hills private equity outfit run by billionaire Tom Gores, was about to seal a deal allowing controversial La Jollan Manchester to take control of the Union-Tribune, San Diego's once all-powerful newspaper of record and political influence.
Manchester, who started his professional life as an insurance salesman and rose to become one of the city's most successful real estate developers, thanks in part to exclusive bayfront leases granted by the San Diego port commission, is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for a variety of undertakings, such as his financial backing of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that overturned same-sex marriage in California, and a big waterfront development deal with the U.S. Navy that triggered environmental outcries and a recent rejection by the state coastal commission.
Until the mogul announced he was selling off his Hyatt Regency twin-tower bay-view hotel next to Seaport Village, the hostelry was the target of a lengthy boycott and noisy picket lines led by bullhorn-wielding opponents, discreetly observed by a cadre of San Diego city and port police.
On November 5, the Union-Tribune, without mentioning any prospective deal to sell the paper, editorialized in favor of going ahead with Manchester's redevelopment project with the Navy, saying coastal commission rejection of the plan "does not have to mean the death, or even the overly long delay, of the project, the thousands of jobs it would create and the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic stimulus it would spark for San Diego over the next decade."
"The biggest obstacle is the desire of commission staff for the 2.9-million-square-foot office-hotel complex to be scaled back by eliminating one of the four office towers and one of three hotels.
"The Manchester team views them as key components that would make the project economically viable while still providing the Navy a new headquarters building for free.
"What's needed, said Perry Dealy, Manchester 's consultant, is 'a reasonable and fair balance - and I'm willing to do that.'
"If the commission, its staff and project opponents adopt a similar spirit, Pacific Gateway can breathe new life."
A few days before, on November 2, the U-T had vigorously urged the commission to proceed with the project, saying, "Enough is enough...If Pacific Gateway goes down, lost with it would be thousands of jobs and economic stimulus. That is unacceptable.
"As San Diego struggles to break out of the economic doldrums, government should be doing what it can to help, not get in the way. Projects like this can't sit on the sidelines.
"The commission overruled its staff in approving the project 20 years ago. It should do so again today and let this project go forward."
Only after his project with the Navy was finally shot down by the coastal commission did Manchester go public with his desire to buy the U-T, telling the online news website Voice of San Diego of his interest on November 7.
And today, at the top of its front page, the U-T features a large color graphic with five yellow stars, touting the Grand Del Mar resort as the "the first in the county to receive Forbes Travel Guide's top rating."
A glowing story inside says the designation, "puts the Grand Del Mar in the same league as the esteemed Beverly Hills Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco." Manager Tom Voss is quoted as saying nice things about his staff.
But one seemingly important detail is missing: the resort was developed and is run by Manchester Financial Group, Doug Manchester's holding company, whose website features a smiling portrait of him and top executives, including Voss.
By uncanny coincidence, today is also the day that the state Supreme Court is expected to rule regarding Prop 8.