In a move that has deep ramifications for Philadelphia’s entire media ecosystem, George Norcross III has become the majority owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.
Norcross is expected to announce his purchase of tech industry titan Kris Singh‘s shares in Philadelphia’s largest news organization later this afternoon. The move, which doubles Norcross’s holdings, figures to have massive implications for the ongoing battle for control of the papers between Norcross and Lewis Katz.
Prior to this transaction, Norcross (through the firm he leads, General American Holdings), Katz and Singh each owned 26.5 percent of the media company.
The transaction renders a buyout of Norcross’s interests that much more unlikely and also figures to be a centerpiece in legal arguments in the pile of suits and counter-suits the two sides have already filed. Katz and Norcross are bound by a management agreement in which both men enjoy blocking rights on any major decision. But will that hold up over time now that Norcross owns twice as many shares? At the very least, this move signals that Norcross is getting further in — not out.
Norcross, the Democratic party boss of South Jersey, and Katz, a parking lot magnate, started butting heads shortly after they formed an ownership group to buy the city’s papers and largest web site. The group they led, Interstate General Media (IGM), purchased the papers in the spring of 2012. But the pair reached what is apparently an unbridgeable impasse over the firing (and subsequent court-ordered reinstatement) of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.
Norcross, who earned his riches in the insurance industry with Conner Strong & Buckelew, supported Marimow’s firing. Katz, who most famously owned shares in the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils, has a longtime girlfriend who is one of the Inquirer‘s most accomplished reporters, Nancy Phillips, who considers Marimow her mentor.
The fight has since spawned a host of suits and counter-suits.
Katz remains allied with Philadelphia-area philanthropist, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who together still own 42 percent of IGM.
Norcross and his allies, William Hankowsky, the CEO of Liberty Property Trust, and Joe Buckelew, from Norcross’s insurance firm, now own 58 percent — the vast majority of which belongs to Norcross himself.
Follow @SteveVolk on Twitter.