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Eason children to buy Creative Loafing

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The shareholders of Creative Loafing Inc. have accepted a bid for the company from the children of Creative Loafing's founder. "The essence of this deal is it's a transfer of ownership from parents to their kids," says Ben Eason, the son of founder Deborah Eason and the publisher of the Weekly Planet alternative newsweekly in Tampa, Fla. "It is formally a sale, and the way the kids are paying for it is with a leveraged buyout."

Ben Eason, and sisters Jennifer and Taylor, now have the option to purchase outstanding shares of the company before Sept. 30. With the financial backing of other investors and a loan, they expect to complete the deal by the end of August. Following the sale, Ben Eason, 35, will serve as president.

Under terms of an offer tendered by the children June 15 and accepted by shareholders June 30, co-publisher Scott Walsey will be named publisher of the company's flagship newspaper and four other newspapers in Atlanta: the Gwinnett Loaf, the Topside Loaf, The Scene and Motorsport America, a monthly.

Deborah and Ben Eason are discussing her role in the new company. In recent years, she has led Creative Loafing Inc.'s foray into online publishing. An online subsidiary, Creative Loafing Ntwrk, publishes global websites on music, movies, dining and other subjects, and offers links to other alternative newspapers.

Walsey says he plans to concentrate on strengthening editorial content and on increasing sales-force training.

"This town needs us to continue what we're doing. It needs an independent voice to tell people what's really happening in this city," Walsey said.

With the help of her husband, former Georgia State University math professor Elton "Chick" Eason, Deborah Eason founded the newspaper in 1972 as an arts and culture publication. Walsey, who joined the company in 1979, has concentrated on advertising sales. With a distribution of 120,000, Creative Loafing/Atlanta is now the state's second most widely circulated newspaper.

Walsey, Deborah Eason and Chick Eason are the principal shareholders of Creative Loafing Inc., while four other individuals own smaller shares. The children already own non-voting shares in the company.

The purchase agreement calls for Creative Loafing Inc. to be merged with the Weekly Planet Inc., which operates a weekly in Sarasota, Fla., as well as the Tampa paper. In addition to its Atlanta newspapers, Creative Loafing Inc. operates weeklies in Charlotte, Greenville, S.C., Raleigh and Savannah, and owns a share of the Birmingham Weekly.

A merger would clearly establish the combined company, with a combined circulation approaching 500,000, as the third largest chain of alternative weeklies in the country, according to Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in Washington, D.C.

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