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Judge approves sale of Jewish Times publisher

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The buyers of the Baltimore Jewish Times' publishing company are prepared to close the $1.26 million purchase of the company Friday after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved the transaction Thursday. The sale will bring an end to 93 years of family ownership.

Saying she was "enormously pleased" with the outcome of Monday's bankruptcy auction, Judge Nancy V. Alquist granted the motion by the trustee she appointed to sell the assets to Route 95 Publications LLC, the Rockville-based affiliate of the company that owns Washington Jewish Week.

Louis Mayberg, one of four investors in both Route 95 and WJW Group LLC, which owns Washington Jewish Week, said all the paperwork was complete and a deposit already paid. The only thing remaining to close the sale was to transfer the balance.

"We're very pleased to be completing the purchase of Alter Communications," Mayberg said.

The sale is subject to appeal for 14 days, but because no objections have been raised, the likelihood of an appeal is "minuscule," said bankruptcy trustee Zvi Guttman.

Mayberg tipped his hat to the tradition of Jewish journalism pursued by the family who established the Baltimore Jewish Times in 1919, and said "we will work tirelessly to honor their legacy as we look forward to the future of serving the Baltimore Jewish community."

Andrew Alter Buerger, great-grandson of the paper's founder and chief executive officer of Alter Communications, Inc., which also publishes Style magazine, said his feeling now that the sale is official is "bittersweet."

Buerger said he was pleased with the new owners' "commitment to Jewish journalism." At the same time, "I have to say I'm sad my family won't own this for the next 93 years."

Buerger, also the Jewish Times' editor and publisher, said he plans to show up for work Monday, but he added that it could be "time for me to step back and figure out what I want to do."

Mayberg has said it's too soon to discuss specific plans for the weekly magazine, except to say Route 95 intends to keep the company's headquarters in Baltimore and continue its focus on Jewish community news.

After the 35-minute hearing before Alquist, Mayberg made a point of reassuring Alter employees.

"There's some great people there," said Mayberg, president and co-founder of ProFund Advisers LLC, a mutual funds manager in Bethesda. "We think we can benefit a lot from their knowledge and talents."

Alquist called Guttman's work on the sale "outstanding," since just weeks ago, investors were proposing to put up between $368,000 and $600,000 in competing plans to reorganize Alter and take it out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Guttman told the judge that all those involved in Monday's auction would "echo my complete shock" at the final bid. "Most estimates were in the $600,000 range."

In the hourlong auction in downtown Baltimore on Monday, Route 95 topped the bid by Baltimore Community Publishing LLC, a Baltimore-based investor group, by $10,000. One of Alter's key creditors and its former printer, H.G. Roebuck & Son Inc., dropped out at $905,000.

Mayberg said after the hearing that he was willing to go to $1.26 million because of what he sees as the value of "three brands": the Jewish Times, Style and the custom publishing business. Free of the liabilities that would have come with a reorganized Alter Communications, he said, the company's value was clear.

The sale ends three years of conflict between Alter and Roebuck, another family-owned business that had worked with the Buerger family for 50 years. Amid a decline in the news publishing business in 2009, Buerger tried to break a printing contract with Roebuck. The printer sued and won a $362,000 judgment.

After Alter filed to reorganize its finances under Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 14, 2010, the two companies made several attempts to forge plans to take the company out of bankruptcy but could not agree.

Guttman has asked the court to approve a change from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7, meaning a dissolution of Alter Communications. He estimated it would take four to six months to settle all claims by creditors who have done business with the company since Alter filed for bankruptcy. Because those debts have not been added up, he said he could not provide a complete account of who would be paid.

It was clear that the first creditor in line, Wells Fargo, would be paid its full claim, which Guttman estimated at between $340,000 and $400,000. He said the $100,000 claim for an emergency loan by Ronnie L. Buerger, one of Alter's owners, would be paid, although $35,000 would be used for now to pay fees for Guttman and his financial adviser in the bankruptcy.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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