Tribune: Chicago Developer Zell’s Last-Minute Proposal Gets Hearing

A last-minute proposal by Chicago developer Sam Zell is “being actively worked” by the Tribune Company board, a source told its flagship Chicago Tribune over the weekend; more reports since pick up the theme. Zell’s plan has him participating in an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that would take a heavily leveraged company private with tax breaks. The plan, which includes some aspects the special board committee has contemplated for a company-buyout, is being considered.
— In addition to a tax-free spinoff of its broadcast division that would be used to help finance a buyout, according to the Tribune, the company also is considering the sale of two newspapers in Connecticut to Gannett and might consider the sale of the Chicago Cubs.
NYT: The Zell bid essentially derailed other offers and put a wrench in the committee’s internal option. “The board committee is taking Mr. Zell seriously enough that it has slowed its deliberations, which continued over the weekend, to explore his proposals further. It intends to reach a decision no later than the end of March.”
WSJ: The WSJ sees Tribune “inching” toward self-help despite the Zell offer. “One option under consideration is for the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, the company’s second biggest shareholder, to use part of the money it would get in [a] dividend payout to buy out part of the Chandler stake, according to people familiar with the matter. … The foundation and a related charity own about 14% of Tribune.” The three Tribune execs and two former execs on the foundation board have recused themselves. Perhaps most significant, sources tell the Journal the lower advertising numbers reported for January have prompted lower internal projections for the year.