Creeks Owner Adds a Newspaper

Ronald Perelman will run The Independent

On its front page, The Independent, a weekly newspaper based in East Hampton, announced last week that it had a new owner, Ronald Perelman, a name well known here although the famously private Mr. Perelman is not. His estate on Georgica Pond, the Creeks, lies within a half-mile or so of the newspaper’s office in the Red Horse complex on Montauk Highway.

Mr. Perelman and Jerry Della Femina, who founded The Independent and whose outspoken column in it, “Jerry’s Ink,” is regarded as a chief attraction, have been friendly for decades, though their social circles rarely overlap. Mr. Perelman is the chairman, chief executive officer, and sole owner of MacAndrews & Forbes, whose holdings span a broad range of industries from the cosmetics giant Revlon, its flagship, to Siga Technologies, which develops innovative vaccines and drugs for lethal diseases.

 Mr. Della Femina is the advertising legend whose 1969 book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” inspired the AMC series “Mad Men.” The men met in the mid-1980s, he recalled this week, when Mr. Perelman’s Marvel Comics company was a client of Mr. Della Femina’s ad agency.

Under the headline “Letter to Our Readers,” Mr. Perelman promised “a beautifully redesigned paper and website,” starting on Memorial Day, with “many exciting new contributors.” Mr. Della Femina’s column will continue to be in its pages. In last week’s column, Mr. Della Femina wrote that Mr. Perelman had said, “We have a deal if you continue the column.”

The terms of the transfer are not known. There had been speculation here that Mr. Della Femina, who told Forbes magazine in 2011 that he was planning to sell “my houses, my advertising business, my newspaper, and my restaurant” because of Barack Obama and high taxes, might have let the paper go for a song. But apparently that was not the case. “We agreed not to reveal what the deal was,” he said, “but I can tell you that it was not a handshake. It was a good deal for everyone.”

True to his words, Mr. Della Femina sold his eponymous restaurant on North Main Street in 2011, and his eight-bedroom house on Drew Lane overlooking the Atlantic the next year, for $25 million. Piping plover nest protection had put an end to the annual July Fourth fireworks at Main Beach and to the Della Feminas’ legendary display-watching parties, which was said to be a factor in the decision to sell. (He used his Independent column to rage against everyone responsible, most of all the birds themselves.) The adman and his wife, whom he refers to in print as “the beautiful Judy Licht,” now own a house in Bridgehampton.

As chairman and chief executive officer of MacAndrews & Forbes, Mr. Perelman amassed a fortune by buying and building companies, chief among them Revlon, the multinational cosmetics, skin care, fragrance, and personal care conglomerate. In 1995, in what the publicity-shy mogul claimed was his first interview ever, he told the magazine Cigar Aficionado (Mr. Perelman’s cigar smoke is said to have perfumed many a leveraged buyout conference) that “I have stayed away from companies that I didn’t think I’d enjoy owning.”

More recently, in 2013, a CNBC interviewer stopped in the midst of a discussion about the stock market to ask him about the 60-acre Creeks, which he had purchased in the mid-1990s for $9 million, a sum that today might buy one pond-front acre. When he bought the place, Mr. Perelman told the interviewer, it was “so beat-up, so ugly. Everybody turned it down. It was on the market four years. It’s right across the street from the airport — nobody liked it.”

Mr. Perelman recently proposed that East Hampton Village upzone the Creeks to a new residential district with lots of at least six acres. His representatives assured the East Hampton Village Board, whose members appeared less than enthusiastic about the idea, that it would result in low-density development and allow him to maintain the multiple residences on his “family compound.” Mr. Perelman, 74, has 8 children and 10 grandchildren.

Some of those “multiple residences” were built and altered without benefit of building permits, as a building inspector discovered in 2012 following a fire on the grounds. Their status is in limbo in East Hampton Town Justice Court, but if the village adopts the new zoning he has proposed, the illegal buildings would be legalized.

Whether Mr. Perelman will use The Independent’s editorial columns to argue for the proposal remains to be seen. As Mr. Della Femina remarked on Tuesday, apropos of something entirely different — his mid-1990s war with the village, dubbed the Pumpkin Papers when a Halloween display of pumpkins outside the Red Horse Market, which he also owned, had him marched off in handcuffs for defying “signage” laws: “When you have a newspaper, you have a better way with authority.”