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Originally published June 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 16, 2009 at 11:08 AM

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Times Co. completes long-stalled sale of Maine newspapers

The Seattle Times Co. announced the sale of its Maine newspapers Monday to Maine Today Media, a consortium led by Rich Connor, a native...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle Times Co. announced the sale of its Maine newspapers Monday to Maine Today Media, a consortium led by Rich Connor, a native of Bangor, Maine.

The privately held Times Co., suffering financial losses, did not disclose the sale terms or price. But the papers, which operated under the Blethen Maine Newspapers umbrella, had been expected to sell for far less than the company had paid for them.

The Times borrowed about $213 million to buy the Maine newspapers in 1998, an internal company document indicated.

"It is unreasonable to compare newspaper values today with the 1990s," said Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie. "Strategically, Maine was a very important acquisition for us, and the newspapers provided a very good return during our 10-year tenure. We were very reluctant to sell and are very sad about it. If it were not for the severe recession, we would not have done so."

The sale was stalled by the poor economy, which complicated the buyer's ability to get financing.

In an interview in February this year, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen said: "We were sitting here in September, and between Maine and the [Times-owned] 1000 Denny Building we had $100 million in assets the family had firm offers for, and were going to sell, and we lost both sales because of the stock market, and since then no one is willing to give them any liquidity."

While the sale of the Maine papers helps The Times Co. financial picture, the pressure is not off, Carolyn Kelly, company president and chief operating officer, wrote in an e-mail to employees Monday.

"The sale of Blethen Maine Newspapers has taken longer than we hoped, but we are very pleased to have successfully completed this transaction," Kelly said. "While it's good to have the sale completed, it does not solve the financial challenges we face."

The sale includes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Also included is the local news and information site MaineToday.com, as well as a number of nondaily print publications.

Blethen's great-grandfather, Alden, the founder of The Seattle Times in 1896, was a Maine native who grew up in Waldo County. The commitment to buy the papers grew from a family trip to Maine.

Besides the flagship Seattle Times, The Times Co. owns the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, the Yakima Herald-Republic, the Issaquah Press and other newspapers.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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