Manchester sells Grand Del Mar to Di-Fi's hubby

U-T remains on the block as would-be power brokers jockey

Unauthorized helicopter landing pad built at the Grand Del Mar
  • Unauthorized helicopter landing pad built at the Grand Del Mar

The San Diego footprint of Douglas Manchester, the Republican financial kingpin who likes to be called "Papa,” has been poised to shrink substantially with the putative sale of his U-T San Diego newspaper operation.

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein

Image from

Now comes word via the U-T, that the voluble real estate developer has unloaded a majority interest in his Grand Del Mar resort to none other than Richard Blum, rich and controversial husband of Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, and the Fairmont Hotels chain.

"This represents a diversification of our investments and is an opportunity to invest with Blum Capital and Fairmont," the paper quoted Manchester second-in-command Richard Gibbons as saying.

"While the actual purchase price was not disclosed, Gibbons said Fairmont and financier Richard Blum of Blum Capital Partners will be acquiring an 88 percent share of the resort, valued at $230 million. The 249-room Carmel Valley hotel made its debut in October 2007."

As reported here last October, Manchester cut a deal with the city to remedy years of environmental violations at the resort, clearing the way for a possible sale. The arrangement was not wholeheartedly supported by planning commissioner James Whalen, who said of Manchester's long string of permit breaches, "The behavior of this developer impugns all developers."

Kevin Faulconer

Kevin Faulconer

Manchester reached his deal with the city following the takeover of planning powers by GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer, to whose cause the publisher had heavily contributed. At the time the permit was approved, a lawyer for Manchester denied the property was on the market.

Besides the hotel deal, there are other signs Manchester is in retreat. According to the U-T: "Last weekend, Manchester closed his La Jolla restaurant, Bijou, which he opened two years earlier as Amaya."

Meanwhile, the twisted tug-of-war for control of Manchester's U-T San Diego and its remaining political influence continues to play out on the newspaper's pages and behind the scenes among local power brokers, say informed observers who point to two fresh developments.

The first comes in the form of a March 25 editorial blast against Chargers owner Dean Spanos, long the newspaper's darling, who it now casts as the prime villain in the team's putative move to L.A.

Dean Spanos

Dean Spanos

"Chargers president Dean Spanos still publicly insists he wants to keep the team here, but every move the team makes behind the scenes says otherwise,” the editorial maintains.

"Perhaps our own desire to see the team remain in San Diego, along with our desire to believe Spanos when he said he wants to stay, blinded us to reality.”

Adds the paper, "If this team ends up in Los Angeles, it won’t be because ownership exhausted all opportunities to reach a deal in San Diego. It will be because, when it came to crunch time, they didn’t try."

The concession by U-T editorialists that the Chargers move may be inevitable appears to be at odds with a March 26 story on its website, under the byline of sports writer Nick Canepa, hailing a move by San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and his fellow Republican county supervisor Ron Roberts, to dump taxpayer money into an effort to ply the team with a big stadium subsidy.

"The immediate plan is to share costs to bring in consultants and attorneys," according to Canepa's story.

The apparent split between the news and editorial voices of the once-proud newspaper is something new for the U-T, political insiders note. The paper helped orchestrate Faulconer's election as mayor last year at the same time its publisher, mega-millionaire GOP real estate kingpin Douglas Manchester, was making $356,000 in campaign contributions.

John Lynch

John Lynch

Malin Burnham

Malin Burnham

The schism comes amid continuing reports that Manchester intends to unload the troubled media operation. Potential power players in a would-be change of command reportedly include Chicago's Tribune Publishing; Point Loma real estate mogul and yachtsman Malin Burnham; and radio entrepreneur John Lynch, Manchester's original partner in the U-T purchase.

Media watchers think they may have spotted yet another contender, or a guise for one of the current hopefuls, in the form of a Rancho Santa Fe–based company called New Age Media Enterprises, which is advertising online for a chief financial officer.

"New Age Media enterprises is a newly formed LLC, located in San Diego, California, which is acquiring several traditional media assets and transforming them into a multi-media, multi-platform Company," the employment notice says.

"New Age has contracted to acquire several major newspaper and broadcast assets and their digital assets. The Company is fully funded and will have significant [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.]"

Adds the advertisement, "The first acquisition is scheduled to close in early April. Accordingly, the candidate will be required to join New Age soon. New Age will have approximately 800 to 1000 employees. The Company will likely continue to acquire additional media assets in other major markets."

Those following the U-T intrigue note that New Age's multimedia game plan sounds a lot like Rancho Santa Fe resident Lynch's line at the paper before he was kicked upstairs in February of last year — reportedly to work on acquisitions — just before the costly cable TV operation he had set up went dark.

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What is the real picture here? The UT is being sold, but the sale has slowed down. Manchester is selling a major property, and handing over the management of another major property. Is there a complete realignment going on?

Maybe Manchester is having a cash flow problem?

Re the U-T's sole Pulitzer: I just have to speculate that the U-T's Pulitzer came shortly before publisher Helen Copley shuttered its D.C. bureau and then sold the paper to Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills. The award-winning story was written by Marcus Stern, a longtime U-T D.C. bureau reporter, who doubtless knew for years about GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's gambling and drinking aboard a Potomac River pleasure boat, his shady associations with lobbyists, and possibly even the bribes-for-votes scandal. But Cunningham was a GOP darling and skated until the curtain came down on the Copley's Union-Tribune, when Stern finally was cut loose to write what he knew.

Looks like Manchester is our version of Donald Trump. Failed businesses re-branded as successes, loathsome politics, constant meddling in things he has no right or qualifications to be doing, and an ego the size of the moon. With all the problems and violations associated with Grand Del Mar, having a Senator as a spouse will come in handy when Richard Blum takes ownership.

I can visualize the new tall building on the U-T property already. It will display in large letters: MANCHESTER TOWER.

Personally, I think Papa Doug is being majorly distracted by his Russian bride. Why he must have to show her how to order the servants around, make travel and dinner reservations and keep the stable of exotic cars shinning.

And she has to decide which brand of Russian caviar is the best one to buy.

Kevin was our council rep here and his decisions led to San Diego being dubbed 'Fly City' because tourists tend to visit Mission Beach, where his halving of garbage pickups led to an explosion of summer flies that ruin the experience for many visitors.

These flies did not exist prior to Kevin's decision to 'serve our community' by cutting garbage pickups in a heavily touristed area down to once a week. The fly population exploded almost overnight.

He did nothing to improve the infrastructure while the population of Mission Beach tripled. He allowed the beach to be bought up by out of state folks who see it as a hotel, but made no requirements for extra parking to accommodate the huge influx of residents and weekly rental tourists that fill them.

When I called his office to bring this issue up, their response was for many longtime Mission Beach locals to park at another parking lot one mile away and walk.

His signature piece as our representative was to send us all a letter in 2009 in the height of the recession,, using city money, to congratulate himself for using emergency city money to fund a few last months of double pickups - during the winter after the stock market crash when there were NO TOURISTS anywhere. Just when we needed it most.

This guy is a self-motivated lightweight who has no concern for the people he thinks he 'serves.' He is a PR machine whose only real interest is his growing political career as Doug Manchester's public mouthpiece.

Get him out of power before this airhead damages anything else. We need a manager with a vision for the CITY'S future instead of their own future. Why is that so hard to find in San Diego?

Many of us who live on the beach now refer to Kevin as our "Lord of the Flies" for his many contributions to his real constituents: The many flies who flit around our food.

Follow the money, the beach flies are the main beneficiaries of his term in office.

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