Landmark to sell its properties

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By The Staff

Landmark News Service

Landmark Communications Inc., owner of the Henry County Local and its parent division, Shelbyville-based Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., has announced the decision to explore selling its properties.

The company, based in Norfolk, Va., confirmed media reports late Jan. 2 that it had hired two national investment firms, JPMorgan and Lehman Brothers, to "assist us in exploring strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of Landmark's businesses," according to a memorandum sent to employees.

A formal announcement to employees at all Landmark properties was made Thursday.

Company revenues topped $2 billion last year. A sale of all, or some, of Landmark's properties could occur as soon as summer, executives said.

The company's media portfolio includes the Weather Channel, Dominion Enterprises, three metropolitan newspapers - the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the Greensboro News and Record in Greensboro, N.C., and The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va. - and LCNI. Landmark also owns weather data company Weather Services International and TV stations in Las Vegas and Nashville, Tenn.

The greatest share of Landmark's profits comes from The Weather Channel, said Landmark CEO and Board Chairman Frank Batten Jr. One of the last privately held cable stations, TWC reaches about 97 million households and celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The station, combined with Landmark's other weather-related businesses, could fetch roughly $5 billion.

Next largest, Batten said, is Dominion Enterprises, a conglomeration of publications and Web sites with the focus ranging from employment to real estate. Dominion is housed in a one-year-old, 20-story building on Granby Street in Norfolk. Its annual revenue nears $1 billion.

Coming in third is Landmark's collection of community oriented daily and weekly newspapers and television stations.

LCNI, based in Shelbyville operates 54 paid newspapers in 13 states, 40 free newspapers and shoppers, 16 offset commercial printing plants, seven collegiate sports publications and 30 specialty publications such as real estate guides and homes magazines. Regionally, these newspapers include the Oldham Era in La Grange, the Henry County Local in New Castle, the Trimble Banner in Bedford, the News-Democrat in Carrollton, the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, the Pioneer News in Shepherdsville and the Spencer Magnet in Taylorsville.

Executives told employees Jan. 3 that they hope to sell the publishing group in one piece, but it may be necessary to sell the metro newspapers separately from the community newspaper division.

Batten said he brought up the decision to explore selling the company at Landmark's Nov. 30 board meeting, and there was no disagreement.

He described it as "an emotionally difficult decision for everybody, including me, and especially for my father, who's worked in the company for more than 50 years."

Frank Batten Sr., the nephew of Landmark's founder, Samuel L. Slover, is credited with building up the company during his 44-year run as its chief executive.

Batten, who took over leadership of the family-run media company from his father in 1998, said Jan. 3 that he first considered the idea - and then chose that course - in November.

"It was my decision," said Batten, 49, who controls a majority interest in the privately held company. It was approved, he said, by family members, including Frank Batten Sr., without dissension.

"There was consensus among all of the family members that this was the right course of action to explore," Batten said.

Reports from The Virginian-Pilot were used to compile this story.

E-mail us about this story at editor@hclocal.com.