Patrick Soon-Shiong. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has agreed to purchase the San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times from the Chicago-based newspaper chain Tronc, the company confirmed Wednesday morning.

“We are pleased to transition leadership of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune to local ownership, and we are certain that the journalistic excellence in Southern California will continue long into the future,” said Justin Dearborn, CEO of Tronc.

The newspapers are being sold to Soon-Shiong’s investment firm Nant Capital for $500 million in cash plus the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.

“We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles,” said Soon-Shiong.

The acquisition is the San Diego newspaper’s fourth change in ownership since March 2009, when private investment group Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills took over from the Copley family, the longtime local owners.

The deal, which was leaked and widely reported on Tuesday, came together over the past five days and took many observers by surprise.

Tronc, whose name is short for “Tribune online content,” had fended off previous efforts to buy the company outright or peel off the California newspapers. Tronc had insisted The Times was key to its growth strategy given its proximity to Hollywood, technology hubs and the Pacific Rim.

Soon-Shiong is one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest residents and a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s the latest billionaire to buy a major newspaper. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013. That same year, Red Sox owner John Henry purchased the Boston Globe and, in 2014, Minnesota billionaire and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor bought the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Soon-Shiong has limited connections to San Diego, including timeshares he’s owned since 2001 at the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara in Carlsbad. He’s also vice chairman of Viracta Therapeutics, an anti-cancer biotech in Cardiff.

Union-Tribune publisher and editor Jeff Light on Tuesday called the idea of a Southern California media company “a very compelling proposition,” saying “the business opportunity and the journalistic opportunity are very big.”

The nearly $500 million price tag represents a premium for the struggling media properties. Traditional publications have fallen out of favor on Wall Street amid plummeting print advertising revenue as marketers have been showing preference for Facebook, Google, Snapchat and other sites and away from magazines and newspapers.

The sale is expected to close in the late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter of the year

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.