Barry Fain part of local group bidding to buy Projo

The Providence Journal's headquarters on Fountain Street in Providence. (photo: WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Three local publishing executives and a prominent real-estate investor are among the contenders trying to buy The Providence Journal, WPRI.com has confirmed.

The group’s four members are Barry Fain, John Howell, Matthew Hayes and Arnold “Buff” Chace Jr., Fain told WPRI.com on Monday. “We are part of a group that’s in the hunt,” Fain said. “We made it to the second round.”

Fain declined to say how long he expects the sale process to continue or to divulge further details about the group and its proposal, which is the first active bid to be confirmed since The Journal was put up for sale in December by Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., its owner since 1997.

“We want to keep a relatively low profile moving forward,” Fain said. “But I think it’s safe to say I’m part of a group made up of local community people that feels very strongly that there should be community ownership of the papers here, and we’re willing to try to do what we can to make that happen.”

A.H. Belo Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel told investors April 29 that the effort to sell The Journal was “midway through the process right now,” adding: “I think it’s going very well.”

Howard Sutton, The Journal’s longtime publisher, and Karen Bordeleau, the paper’s executive editor, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

The Fain group would bring decades of experience in Rhode Island newspapering to The Journal if they took over the paper, and would return the paper to local ownership for the first time since A.H. Belo bought it.

Fain and Howell are both publishers at Providence Media, which owns Providence Monthly, East Side Monthly, So Rhode Island and The Bay. Fain, 71, was formerly president of Fain’s Carpets and its retail chain Carpet Giant, as well. Howell, 72, has also been publisher of the Warwick Beacon newspaper and its sister Beacon Communications publications since 1969.

Hayes, 51, is owner and publisher of East Bay Newspapers, a Bristol-based chain of local weeklies that his family has run for three generations. Chace, 66, is president and CEO of Cornish Associates, the Providence-based real estate firm.

It’s unknown how many other groups or companies have made it to the second round of Journal bidding along with Fain’s. The sale process is being managed by Stephens Inc., an Arkansas-based investment bank whose private-equity arm is an investor in the Halifax Media Group newspaper chain.

The Journal’s total revenue ticked up to $21.2 million during the first quarter of this year, a nearly 3% increase compared with 2013, A.H. Belo disclosed in a regulatory filing last month. While the paper’s ad revenue dropped 70% from 2005 to 2013, it has offset some of those losses by raising prices and printing other publications.

The Journal’s print circulation on Sundays fell 12% to 96,656 during the six months ended March 31, while average weekday print circulation fell 9% to 72,023, the Alliance for Audited Media reported earlier this month.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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