The broad smiles flashing on the faces of the family Binkley outside a courtroom in Anchorage on Monday were reminiscent of those brightening the staff of an internet startup called AlaskaDispatch.com only a little over three years earlier.
One can only hope for all involved that the happiness lasts longer this time.
The Dispatch.com smiles came following Alice Rogoff’s $34 million purchase of the Anchorage Daily News, later to become the Alaska Dispatch News to save a valuable online acronym – ADN.com
The Binkley smiles arose after a federal bankruptcy judge gave them the OK to loan Rogoff’s now bankrupt Dispatch News up to $1 million to try to keep it afloat until they or someone else can buy it.
A court hearing on a possible sale is set for Sept. 11 – 9/11 – in the old federal courthouse in downtown Anchorage. None of the more than two dozen people in attendance for the Monday hearing seemed to notice the somewhat ominous date.
It only sounded more foreboding when Bankruptcy Court Judge Gary Spraker mentioned the “distinct possibility of going into a Chapter 7.”
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy action, a company is shutdown and a trustee is appointed to sell its assets. The Binkley Company – a limited liability company formed in mid-August by James, Ryan and Wade Binkley along with Kai Binkley Sims – is trying to help the Dispatch avoid that fate.
The Binkleys are the children of John Binkley, a former candidate for Alaska governor and a Fairbanks businessman who once ran a small tourism empire in the Interior city. The kids have now taken over most of the business, and Binkley is again talking about running for governor.
Still, he has found time to attend all the bankruptcy hearings in Anchorage. He described his role in the deal as “proud father.”
Approval of a debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan from the Binkley Company to the Dispatch News came Monday after Northrim Bank and GCI, the Anchorage telecommunications company, told Spraker they had no objection to a deal worked out by a small gang of lawyers over the weekend.
The Dispatch News was described as in “desperate need of cash” to meet payroll and insurance premium obligations.
Northrim and GCI are the two major creditors in the case. Rogoff personally owes Northrim $10.2 million dollars. She in March added the Dispatch News to one of many assets pledged to Northrim as extra collateral on a loan first secured with the proceeds of a martial settlement agreement – a form of spousal support – sent north by Rogoff’s husband, billionaire David Rubenstein.
Rubenstein appears to have been paying Rogoff something on the order of $5 million per year. She was using big chunks of it to subsidize the Dispatch News. Indications are Rubestein somehow cut off the northward flow of money in February of this year when Rogoff needed it most.
Dispatch is on track to lose a record $8 million in 2017. A limited liability company (LLC), Rogoff has run it much as if it were a sole proprietorship. The way she has conducted business through Dispatch News and other LLCs has led GCI to accuse her of using them as fronts to protect her from liability for what they believe to be what one might call The Alice Rogoff Company.
GCI is trying to rip the “corporate veil” off that organization in hopes it can get at Rogoff personally. Otherwise, with the Dispatch News in bankruptcy, GCI is likely to be out almost $1.4 million in back rent, electrical costs and penalties and an estimated $1.5 million Dispatch is expected to owe after GCI rips a printing press out of its building on Northway Drive.
The building is the old home of the Daily News. Rogoff sold it to GCI in 2014 to help pull together the $34 million needed to buy the News from the California-based McClatchy Company.
She promised to be out of the building in 18 months and to remove and clean up the press. But like a variety of other Rogoff promises, this one was broken.
GCI was in state court on Monday morning planning to evict the Dispatch News from the GCI building, but agreed to stay that eviction until Oct. 11. That dovetails with an agreement to let the Binkley group continue to print the Dispatch News at the Northway Drive location for a couple more months.
Where the newspaper might be printed after that time – if the newspaper survives – is unclear. The Dispatch News has two presses sitting in an old, oilfield services warehouse on Arctic Boulevard just south of Midtown, but they are not operable.
Arctic Partners, the owner of the building, is being sued by M&M Wiring Services Inc., the company that helped wires the presses. The M&M suit stems from work ordered by Alaska Dispatch, which then refused to pay.
Dispatch owes M&M about $500,000, but the electric company’s ability to try to make Alaska Dispatch pay is limited because the newspaper owns so few assets. So M&M filed a lien on the Arctic Partners building and took the owners to court under a provision of Alaska law that makes landlords responsible for what happens in their buildings unless they post warnings against doing work there.
The Binkley group has offered mixed signals on the printers. Erik LeRoy, an attorney for the Binkleys, on Monday said they have no plans to use the building that was to be the new home of Rogoff’s Alaska Dispatch News.
“We’re not interested in the lease. The two printers in there we are interested,” he said, only to add later that he wasn’t sure how interested.
“They’re probably not going to be included in our purchase” offer for the Dispatch News, he said.
An attorney for Arctic Partners said it just wants the Dispatch News and its printers out of the building so it can try to lease the space to another tenant.
John Binkley said the Binkley family is scrambling to determine where to print the newspaper. Both buying a printer and moving it to a location suitable for a printing plant or arranging to have the paper printed on contract are on the table, he said.
Old versus new
The newspaper is the history of the Dispatch News, which traces one branch of its family tree back to the Anchorage News first published in 1946.
The website ADN.com is the future of the Dispatch News, which traces the heart of that operation back to AlaskaDispatch.com which was started as a blog in 2008 by Amanda Coyne and ex-husband Tony Hopfinger of Anchorage.
Rogoff bought controlling interest in 2009 and moved the internet start-up out of the Hopfinger-Coyne home into a Merrill Field hangar that housed her airplane. Over the years the followed, Dispatch flourished and grew to support a staff of 25.
Coyne left the company after a divorce in 2013. Hopfinger helped oversee Rogoff’s purchase of the Daily News and was later named Alaska Dispatch president. Rogoff in 2012 talked to Alaska Public Media about “the big part of the commitment that Tony and I and Amanda had when we got married, so to speak.”
Hopfinger and Rogoff later ended up in ugly divorce. After the purchase of the Anchorage Daily News, she promised to pay him $1 million for his remaining interest in the company. The payments were to be made in $100,000 installments over 10 years.
Rogoff made one payment and stopped. She and Hopfinger are now locked in a bitter lawsuit.
And the website Hopfinger and Coyne built looks to be the most valuable part of the project they started. The website MySiteWealth.com values the ADN.com domain at more than $3.7 million.
The domain appraisal tool bases value on daily unique visitors, bounce rate, social media shares and nine other factors. ADN.com has by far the greatest reach of any news website in Alaska and it shows in the appraisals. KTUU.com is valued at less than $300,000 – about a twelth the value of ADN.com – and KTVA.com comes in at less than $250,000.
Cabot Christianson, Rogoff’s bankruptcy lawyer, has said there appear to be interests other than the Binkley Company interested in the Dispatch News. Whether they want to print a newspaper or run a website or both is unknown.