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Just when it looked like it was all but over, the bidding for beleaguered Tribune Co. heated up again late Thursday as L.A. billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad submitted a revised offer that values the newspaper-TV station conglom at $34 a share.

Burkle and Broad’s latest offer includes a $500 million equity investment and incorporates an employee stock ownership plan, which offers significant tax benefits to existing shareholders. It is similar to the bid submitted by Chicago real estate kingpin Sam Zell, whose offer is said to be about $33 a share. Tribune’s board was rumored earlier in the week to be leaning toward accepting Zell’s roughly $8 billion bid (Daily Variety, March 28).

Tribune’s stock gained 40 cents on Thursday to close at $31.53. News of the renewed bidding tussle over the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, WPIX-TV New York, KTLA-TV Los Angeles and 21 other major-market TV stations broke after the market close.

Burkle, chairman of supermarket giant Yucaipa Co., and Broad, real estate developer and founder of KB Home and SunAmerica, are understood to have approached Tribune about buying just the Times but were rebuffed. The partners then submitted a complicated leveraged-buyout offer for the entire company that also got a thumbs-down from Tribune’s board. Zell entered the fray in February after closing a deal to sell his Equity Office Properties Trust holdings to Blackstone Group for $39 billion, including debt.

Reps for Burkle and Broad declined comment on the new bid. A Tribune spokesman said he could not “confirm or deny” whether a new bid was submitted Thursday. Tribune’s board reportedly was set to meet on Friday and was expected to approve the Zell offer to meet a self-imposed deadline of Saturday for making a decision on its future direction.

Tribune went on the auction block late last summer after the company’s largest shareholder, the Chandler clan that formerly owned the Los Angeles Times, publicly called the for the company to be sold or broken up to boost its flagging stock price. Chicago-based Tribune acquired Los Angeles Times parent Times Mirror in 2000. The Chandler family also submitted a bid for the remainder of the company earlier this year, and it’s understood that Tribune was also mulling the possibility of a buyout by company insiders.

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