Hawaii car dealer McKenna interested in buying Star-Bulletin
By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer
Local car dealer Mike McKenna said he's interested in buying the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
McKenna, owner of Mike McKenna's Windward Ford in Kailua, said he plans to make inquiries with the Star-Bulletin's owner, Oahu Publications Inc., which will officially put the state's No. 2 daily newspaper on the market next week.
"We'll definitely take a look at this," McKenna said in an interview with The Advertiser.
Star-Bulletin owner David Black announced on Feb. 25 that he plans to buy the assets of The Advertiser, the state's largest paper, including its $82 million printing complex in Kapolei. Black said he would sell the Star-Bulletin.
If Black is unable to sell the money-losing Star-Bulletin, he will merge it with The Advertiser, leaving O'ahu with only one daily paper. The merger would also result in hundreds of layoffs as the staffs of the two companies are combined.
McKenna tempered his comments by saying that he hasn't seen the Star-Bulletin's financials and doesn't know the details of what's being offered for sale. But if it is attractive, he could put together a group of investors to pursue a deal, he said.
Oahu Publications will begin running advertisements in local and national newspapers and in trade publications to market the Star-Bulletin starting Monday, said Dennis Francis, the Star-Bulletin's publisher.
The ads, which will run for two weeks, will provide a description of the assets being sold.
If a prospect emerges in the two weeks, Oahu Publications will take several more weeks for further review.
Francis said the company plans to contact many of the larger newspaper operators around the world and will reach out to potential local buyers to gauge their interest.
Meanwhile, resolutions have been introduced in the state House and Senate and at the Honolulu City Council urging Black Press to provide sufficient time for a new owner to be found for the Star-Bulletin.
The resolutions focus on saving the Star-Bulletin and preserving two independent newspapers.
"We're working to get the community more involved," said Richard Port, a Democratic activist involved in the Save our Star-Bulletin campaign a decade ago when the newspaper was threatened with closure.
McKenna, 76, has owned car dealerships on O'ahu since 1986 but has a background in the newspaper business.
In the 1960s, he founded a twice-a-week community newspaper in Orange County, Calif., called the La Miranda Lamplighter, which had a circulation of about 20,000.
He sold the newspaper in the mid-1970s.
McKenna attempted to purchase the Star-Bulletin in 1993 when then-owner Gannett Corp. put the newspaper up for sale to buy The Advertiser. Gannett later sold the Star-Bulletin to Liberty Newspapers LP.
In 2000, McKenna was one of seven investors that expressed an interest in buying the Star-Bulletin under a court-supervised sale. Black eventually emerged as the winning bidder for the newspaper.
Black's purchase of The Advertiser requires the approval of the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division.
As part of that approval process, he has to make a "good faith" effort to sell the Star Bulletin before he can complete his purchase and merge the two daily newspapers.
In an interview with The Advertiser last month, Black expressed doubts that he will find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin. The company has lost money for years and the newspaper has about half the circulation of The Advertiser.
On the day he announced plans to buy The Advertiser and sell the Star Bulletin, Black said, "Our community can no longer support two daily newspapers."
So far, no potential buyer has come forward, Francis said yesterday. McKenna has not yet contacted the Star-Bulletin.
LOTS OF SKEPTICISM
Laurie Carlson, publisher of the Honolulu Weekly, said she thinks it's unlikely a buyer will be found for the Star-Bulletin, given the tough economics faced by the newspaper industry today.
Carlson noted that Black was able to compete with The Advertiser for the past nine years partly as a result of his purchase of the free MidWeek newspaper, which cushioned the losses by the Star-Bulletin.
The sale of the Star-Bulletin will not include the profitable MidWeek. That makes the Star-Bulletin less attractive, Carlson said.
"It's much more unlikely nine years later that someone will step forward to do this," she said.Advertiser Staff writer Derrick DePledge contributed to this report. Reach Rick Daysog at 525-8064.