By Julie Reynolds
When it comes to gutting local newspapers, the big chain owners like Gannett, Hearst and Lee all seem to be racing to slash staff and resources.
But they are, at least, news media companies.
On the other hand, Alden Global Capital, owner of the second-largest newspaper chain in the country after Gannett, has continuously invested in everything from discount shoe chains to polluting Russian energy firms.
Now its real estate subsidiary, Twenty Lake Holdings, has bought an estimated 200-plus Greyhound bus terminals across the U.S.
Late last year, Alden paid $140 million to FirstGroup, a Scotland-based transportation company that bought the bus lines in 2007. After deciding to get out of the U.S. bus business — mainly due to pressure from Alden-like activist investors who threatened to take over the company’s board (sound familiar?) — FirstGroup first sold Greyhound’s buses and business operations to the German company FlixMobility for around $46 million. Flix, in turn, is owned by three private equity groups. But FirstGroup held on to most of the real estate, those downtown bus stations.
After selling off five individual stations (including Denver and Los Angeles) to various buyers, FirstGroup then sold “all but two” of the remaining terminals to Twenty Lake Holdings, Alden’s real estate subsidiary, in December. At last tally, Greyhound said it had 230 stations, so it looks like Alden must have bought around 223 or so of them in one mega-deal.
Of course, 2022 was also the year Alden spent at least (likely much more) $250 million gobbling up mobile home parks — promptly raising rents as much as 60 percent and evicting tenants, many of whom are among our most vulnerable citizens and living on limited incomes.
At the same time Alden went on this buying spree, its newspapers languished, in some cases losing 20% of staff at already bare-bones newsrooms.
Several of the Greyhound terminals (including Houston, Richmond and Chicago) were quickly put up for sale — after all, most of these old buildings are located in areas ripe for gentrification. One, in Cleveland, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s a tender remembrance of Oakland’s classic old Greyhound station on San Pablo Avenue by the independent news outlet, The Oaklandside.
A stew of mingled businesses
Because Alden is not primarily a news media company, it shouldn’t surprise that it invests in other types of industries. What is unusual is the extent of inter-mingling that has gone on for years between its many entities and its co-founders’ personal investments.
Alden bought into Media NewsGroup and the Journal Register Company around 2011. The merged entity was named Digital First Media.
Before the dust cleared, however, DFM’s own executives, Joseph M. Miller and Jay H. Yang, started running a new, third-party real estate firm, Twenty Lake Holdings, which then brokered the mass sell-off of all of DFM’s property.
Delaware corporation records show Twenty Lake was established in 2013, a couple of years after Alden’s sell-off of Digital First Media (now Media NewsGroup) newspaper buildings began, but in time to handle the bulk of the sales.
And soon, according to a Twenty Lake sales sheet, the firm sold more than 125 news properties in 23 states, worth a total of $230.2 million. It has continued to buy and sell newspaper plants and buildings from other chains as well.
Like Alden and Smith, Twenty Lake shuns the limelight. When SaveLocalNews.org first reported on Twenty Lake, the story linked to a page on Twenty Lake’s website listing scores of newspaper assets for sale. After the story ran, Twenty Lake blocked the listings from public view.
Seeing newsrooms across the country vanish has been a painful spectacle. After all, for most local papers, their buildings and the land they sat on made up a large part of the financial security their owners could always fall back on in hard times.
But beyond that tragedy, Smith and his wife intermingled their own investments when they began buying up more than $50 million worth of Palm Beach mansions, and deeds show that at least three of those 16 mansions were bought by limited liability companies located in the same Manhattan office — Suite 1940 —as Twenty Lake, the firm selling off Alden newspapers’ real estate.
In New York City, where Smith and Alden no longer keep offices, Smith just let one of his many residences go, this time a Park Avenue co-op apartment that sold for $13.5 million, soon after selling one of his Palm Beach mansions for $23 million.
All of the Florida deeds were owned by LLCs whose documents were signed by Kalman Vidomlanski, who lists himself on LinkedIn as Alden’s tax director.
Vidomlanski, along with Alden co-founder Heath Freeman and Smith Management’s top executive Tom Del Bosco, have also been listed as holding various management positions in connection with Alden’s new mobile home park venture.
In the end, Alden/Smith/Twenty Lake et al specialize only in one business — skimming money from struggling industries.
UPDATE: Researcher at DePaul University recently found that the closure of Chicago’s Alden-owned terminal — which serves a half-million customers a year — would adversely impact lower-income travelers, and that other cities have been forced to use parking lots and curbs to pick up and drop off Greyhound travelers.
FEATURED ART | A South Carolina Greyhound station in the 1980s. | Photo, Library of Congress; public domain.