Media observers believe the company may now be worth less than $40 million.

Raymond Perelman heads privately held RGP Holdings Inc., which includes manufacturing, mining and financial interests. He has donated $225 million to the University of Pennsylvania medical school and millions more to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts and other local endeavors.

He said in his letter he was therefore "surprised and dismayed" to learn that he and others can't bid for the city's newspapers.

A New York investment bank conducting the sale, Evercore Partners, declined to comment Thursday.

Hedge funds Alden Global Capital and Angelo Gordon, two of the largest stakeholders in the company, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment. They can conduct the private sale however they wish, but observers are puzzled why they wouldn't seek multiple bids to drive up the price.

"If they want to sell, why wouldn't they want to get the highest price? Why would they be turning away bidders with cash?" asked lawyer Larry McMichael, who represented former owners in their long, acrimonious bankruptcy fight with creditors.

The creditors prevailed and have since sold off the headquarters building to Blatstein for $22.6 million.

Blatstein said that since he acquired the building he has been "increasingly intrigued by the operations."

"I would want to do the best job possible to bring the greatness back to this great institution," he said.

Blatstein said he's gotten no response this week to his inquiries about the sale process. He has revitalized the nearby Northern Liberties neighborhood, putting restaurants and upscale apartments on and around a former brewery site. He sees the newspapers as a good business venture.

"This is a business, and it needs to be run as a business, a money-making business, and be independent at the same time," he said.

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