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Edgy Tampa alternative weekly Creative Loafing sold to Cleveland publisher

TAMPA — Creative Loafing Tampa, the edgy alternative weekly that’s covered Tampa Bay area arts, entertainment, politics and local news since 1988, has been sold yet again.

Euclid Media Group of Cleveland, Ohio did not disclose what it paid SouthComm, based in Nashville, for the free weekly, which has offices in Ybor City.

In announcing the news Monday, Creative Loafing’s Twitter feed held back none of its independent bite.

"We’ve got new overlords, people," it said.

And those bosses have acted. Euclid laid off several staffers, including longtime editor-in-chief David Warner, and promoted Scott Harrell from managing editor and online editor to editor-in-chief.

In a column posted at cltampa.com Monday afternoon, Warner said the layoffs also included news and politics editor Kate Bradshaw, creative director Julio Ramos and account executives James Ostrand and Claire Sayetta, leaving the publication with four full-time editorial staffers.

"I guess I should have known," Warner wrote. "It’s been common knowledge since last December that our current owner, Southcomm, Inc. out of Nashville and Wisconsin, was offloading its alt-weeklies to concentrate on its B2B publications, and that CL Tampa was among the papers on the chopping block. ... Accordingly, our office had been plagued by the dull hum of uncertainty for months."

In Euclid’s announcement of the purchase, publisher James Howard said, "we value the contributions of every staffer, and the cuts we have made are in no way a reflection on the quality of their work."

Euclid said it expects to bring in new digital and event marking strategies with the aim of growing the weekly’s online presence and readership.

"A cultural institution," Euclid chief operating officer Michael Wagner said of Creative Loafing, known for its annual "Best of the Bay" list of people, places, restaurants, services, bands, blogs and much more. "We are very proud to add their incredible and resilient staff to the Euclid family."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Creative Loafing could be tenant for new ‘town square’ in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District

The roots of Creative Loafing go back to 1972, when Deborah Eason started the Atlanta version of the magazine with the help of her husband Chick, who taught math at Georgia State University, and their three children. The Easons’ son, Ben, went on to oversee a vibrant publishing group that had Creative Loafing outposts in Tampa, Atlanta and Charlotte.

But the company stumbled after borrowing about $30 million to buy the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper. Lucrative classified ads migrated to free web sites like craigslist. The Great Recession put even more pressure on the papers. In 2008, Creative Loafing filed to reorganize its finances under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code.

In one sign of how much and how quickly the business of local publishing has changed, an aspiring but unsuccessful buyer offered $13.3 million for Creative Loafing less than 10 years ago.

In contrast, that’s more than Tampa Bay Times paid to buy the Tampa Tribune two years ago.

CONTEXT: Tampa Bay Times borrowed to finance Tribune purchase

A New York hedge fund acquired the Creative Loafing chain out of bankruptcy in 2009, and SouthComm bought the Tampa and Charlotte weeklies in 2011. (Ben Eason has since repurchased Creative Loafing Atlanta.)

Creative Loafing Tampa is one of nine properties owned by Euclid Media group, along with Orlando Weekly, Cincinnati CityBeat, Cleveland Scene, Detroit Metro Times, Riverfront Times, San Antonio Current, Out In SA and Out in STL. Euclid Media Group is run by Chris Keating of Shaker Heights, Ohio; Michael Wagner of San Antonio, Texas; and Andrew Zelman of Cleveland, Ohio.

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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