In an unusual move, Princeton Packet Publisher James Kilgore last year announced that he was looking to sell the newspaper and magazine chain in a front page article in his own flagship newspaper.
But aside from a report of an in-house effort to put together a deal, there has been little speculation regarding interest from buyers since that announcement. Until now.
The online news website Planet Princeton (planetprinceton.com) reported on May 7 that “local business sources” are saying that Town Topics owners Robert Hillier and Lynn Adams Smith have made a bid to purchase the Packet.
Kilgore, in an E-mail to Planet Princeton the next day, claimed the report is inaccurate. “Since I have signed multiple non-disclosure agreements during the marketing process I cannot comment in any detail about which parties have or have not responded to the initial offer but I can say a sale is not pending.”
Smith also disputed the information in the article. “The article on Planet Princeton is riddled with misinformation,” said Smith in an E-mail to U.S. 1. She added that she had asked Planet Princeton to take the story down. “ At this point, we don’t want to comment.”
Krystal Knapp, author of the Planet Princeton article, said she stands by the accuracy of her story, and noted that the story did not say that the offer had been accepted.
If a deal were to eventually be struck, the Town Topics would be buying its most immediate competitor and neighbor — the two operations are headquartered almost across the street from each other on Witherspoon Street.
In roughly 2001, Smith — an ad sales representative at the Town Topics — purchased the half-century old weekly along with Hillier, who eventually became the majority owner. Despite the Packet’s high visibility, the free circulation Town Topics is the paper that has dominated Princeton for many years.
Since then, Hillier has become even more involved in publishing, co-founding the online magazine Obit, which celebrates the lives of the recently deceased, in 2007, and purchasing Princeton Magazine in 2009.
Hillier is also the founder of the Hillier Group and Hillier Architecture, which merged with RMJM in 2007. RMJM vacated the firm’s long-time offices in Alexander Park last year. In 2009, Hillier started a new architecture firm — J. Robert Hillier — on Witherspoon Street, and has recently bought a substantial number of properties on the street to redevelop them.
Publishing industry insiders have said that any new buyers of the Packet would be unlikely to continue to operate the Packet’s outdated printing press, which operates out of its Witherspoon Street building. This could make the property even more attractive to someone such as Hillier, who has experience redeveloping commercial buildings. His current Witherspoon Street architecture office was the former Jefferson Plumbing Company.
At the time of Kilgore’s announcement last November, the company’s general manager, Brad Koltz, who joined the Packet in 2009, said that he was talking with lenders about the money it would take to buy the media company. Koltz also said several members of the Packet’s management staff could join him in purchasing the company. Since then, there has been no news on that effort.
The Kilgore family owns Packet Media Group, which publishes 11 subscription newspapers, seven free papers, and a monthly magazine. The Princeton Packet was founded in 1786 and subsequently published under several names until it was renamed the Packet in 1916. Kilgore’s father, Bernard, often credited with the rebirth of the Wall Street Journal, bought the company in 1955. Jim Kilgore has been at the helm for the past 31 years.