ANCHORAGE (CN) — The fight between traditional newspapers, cable TV and internet took a serious turn Friday in Anchorage, where a cable company filed eviction papers on Alaska’s biggest newspaper, the Alaska Dispatch News.
GCI, which also owns local CBS affiliate KTVA-11, filed eviction papers in Superior Court against the Alaska Dispatch News and its owner, Alice Rogoff. GCI intends to boot the newspaper’s printing and warehouse operations from their home at the old Anchorage Daily News building.
Rogoff, 63, a business executive turned publisher, was CFO for U.S. News and World Report for 10 years, and helped The Washington Post create its online edition. She was a special assistant to the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the last two years of the Carter administration. She is the wife of hedge fund billionaire David Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group. She became majority owner of the Alaska Dispatch in 2008.
After Rogoff bought the Anchorage Daily News for $34 million in 2014 from McClatchy, becoming the state’s newspaper titan, she sold the warehouse and printing press building to GCI, intending to move the press and staff to a smaller, newer facility. The news, ad and circulation staff now operate from a leased building in midtown.
GCI Communications Corp. bought the old Daily News building “to acquire the property for use by GCI CC and its affiliates, not to maintain the property as a rental facility,” the complaint states.
“Throughout the negotiations with Rogoff and ADP, GCI CC made clear that its intent was to recapture use of the full building as quickly as possible.”
GCI bought the building to consolidate its telecom technicians and equipment into one site, but agreed to lease back about 89,000 square feet of the 126,000 square-foot building.
Understanding the difficulty and expense of removing a newspaper press, GCI agreed to a short-term lease with the Dispatch News to allow it to move the press, according to the complaint.
GCI says the Dispatch News owes $1.4 million in back rent and utilities for the site, which houses the newspaper’s only working printing press. GCI also seeks more than $1 million in damages and an order returning the property to it.
“ADN’s failure to vacate the warehouse space has prevented GCI and its affiliates from utilizing the property for its own purposes,” the complaint states. “GCI has continued to accommodate ADN’s failure to vacate the premises by renegotiating leases and operating multiple disparate warehouse operations across Anchorage.”
GCI went to court because nothing else has worked to resolve the situation, its spokeswoman Heather Handyside said in a statement.
A court hearing has been set for Monday, Aug. 21.
“We’ve exhausted all of our options to move this process forward,” Handyside said. “ADN has been in the facility since December with no lease. We have reached out multiple times in the intervening months to try to reach an agreement and that just hasn’t been successful.”
The lawsuit targets Rogoff as the primary agent responsible for the newspaper’s actions. “ADN and [co-defendant] AK Publishing are mere instruments of Alice Rogoff, the corporate forms of which continue to be used by Rogoff to defeat public convenience and justify wrong,” the complaint states.
“Under Alaska law, Rogoff’s conduct pierces the corporate veils of ADN and AK Publishing, making Rogoff personally liable for both companies’ debts, obligations and judgments to GCI.”
Rogoff said in a statement that “extremely complex events” led to this point.
“It is extremely unfortunate that GCI has taken this legal action to evict us from our press facility,” Rogoff told Alaska news outlets. “At no point has there been any bad faith on the part of the newspaper. Our goal has always been to keep Alaska’s largest newspaper alive and robust for the sake of our readers and the community. Our goal remains unchanged and we are in active discussions toward that end.”
Rogoff said that discussions with GCI and with potential buyers and investors in the newspaper preclude her and the newspaper from more specific comments.
“Please know that business disputes arise from many causes and are never one-sided,” Rogoff said. “We hope that this matter will be resolved shortly to the benefit of all parties.”
Rogoff is also facing a lawsuit from former Dispatch News editor Tony Hopfinger, who says she failed to pay money owed toward a $1 million contract. That case is set for trial in March 2018.
Rogoff and Dispatch News’ parent company are embroiled in three other lawsuits. One, filed in Anchorage Superior Court by Alaska Dispatch Publishing against McClatchy Newspapers, claims McClatchy misrepresented key aspects of the sale, which cost Rogoff more than agreed, seeks $700,000 in damages.
Two others filed recently in Anchorage federal and superior courts also involve the Dispatch News. M&M Wiring Service sued on June 1, claiming it’s owed $450,000 for services and materials used to improve a building to house new offices and printing press for the newspaper.
On June 22, Catalyst Paper sued the Dispatch News, saying it owes for three shipments of newsprint.
GCI is represented by Thomas Wang and Rebecca Lipson with Ashburn & Mason.