Lewis Katz, Who Co-Owned Nets, Devils, Inquirer, Dies at 72

Lewis Katz, a parking, billboard and sports mogul who through the years owned the New Jersey Nets basketball team, New Jersey Devils hockey team and, most recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, has died. He was 72.

Katz was killed on May 31 with six other people in a private jet crash in Bedford, Massachusetts, his son, Drew Katz, said in a statement. Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest won control of the Inquirer and its sister publication at a court-ordered auction four days earlier.

A native of Camden, New Jersey, Katz was increasingly involved with his philanthropic giving. Last month, Temple University announced it would name its medical school after Katz, who told the Inquirer that while his mother wanted him to be a doctor, he couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

He instead became a lawyer and businessman. He was chief executive officer of Kinney System Holding Corp., the largest operator of parking lots in the New York area, from 1990 until its sale in 1998 to Nashville, Tennessee-based Central Parking Corp. for $225 million.

He was former chairman of Interstate Outdoor Advertising Co., the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based billboard company that Drew Katz took over in 1999. The firm began in 1984 “with prime outdoor advertising opportunities in the New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York markets,” according to its website, and in 2000 acquired R.C. Maxwell Co., one of the earliest U.S. billboard companies.

Basketball Beneficiaries

With Raymond Chambers, former chairman of Wesray Capital Corp. and currently a special United Nations envoy, Katz led a group of New Jersey real-estate developers that bought the Nets basketball team in 1998. Through a trust formed by Katz, the franchise’s profits went to help inner-city schools in Camden and elsewhere in New Jersey.

Katz and Chambers joined forces with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to form YankeeNets, a holding company, and then the regional sports television network YES. In 2000, an affiliate of YankeeNets created by Katz and Chambers, Puck Holdings, bought the Devils hockey team.

Though stymied in their bid to move the Nets to a new arena in Newark, New Jersey, from their home at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, Katz and Chambers presided over the team during a successful run that included reaching the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. YankeeNets sold the team in 2004 to Bruce Ratner, who moved them to their current home in Brooklyn, New York.

Katz and Lenfest won control of Philadelphia’s Inquirer, an illustrious U.S. newspaper that has suffered through management turmoil in recent years, at a May 27 auction that valued the company at $88 million. The transaction will proceed with Drew Katz joining the new company’s board, Lenfest said.

Crash Investigated

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the Gulfstream IV jet at Hanscom Field. The twin-engine plane never lifted off during its attempted takeoff, a witness told investigators, according to Luke Schiada, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB. Most of the wreckage was consumed by fire, he said at a briefing yesterday.

The plane went off the end of the runway, skidded through a field and ripped through a chainlink fence before coming to rest in a gully filled with water, Schiada said.

The jet carried four passengers, two pilots and a cabin attendant, according to the NTSB. Identities of the others on board weren’t immediately released.

‘Good Things’

“Lewis was such a ‘full of life’ guy, always optimistic and forward looking, always wanting to push the envelope and do good things for Philadelphia and Camden,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter said yesterday in a statement.

Katz was born on Jan. 11, 1942. About a year later his father, Milton, died of a heart attack, and his mother, Betty, went to work to become the family breadwinner, according to a 1998 profile in the Inquirer.

Katz received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Temple in 1963. He spent a year working for journalist Drew Pearson before entering law school, graduating first in his class of 1966 at Dickinson School of Law, which today is part of Pennsylvania State University, according to a biography on Penn State’s website.

He clerked for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice John C. Bell Jr., then helped establish Cherry Hill law firm Katz, Ettin & Levine. He was principal shareholder in two New Jersey banks, First Peoples and Cherry Hill National.

“I know I was lucky,” he said, according to the Penn State biography. “The value of businesses often turns on things beyond your control. Parking, billboards, and banking all consolidated while I was in them and that boosted their value.”

Katz was elected as a Camden County freeholder in the 1970s.

Drew Katz said yesterday in the statement: “My father was my best friend. He taught me everything. He never forgot where and how he grew up, and he worked tirelessly to support his community in countless ways that were seen and unseen. He loved his native city of Camden and his adopted home of Philadelphia.”

Katz married the former Marjorie Nemarow in 1966. In addition to son Drew, they had a daughter, Melissa. Marjorie Katz died in December.

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