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Hellman & Friedman Capital Partners and businessman Karl Eller are the new owners of outdoor giant Patrick Media Group.

GE Capital Services, Stamford, Conn., sold the Chicago-based company for a reported $500 million after a bidding war that also involved Gannett Outdoor, Transportation Displays Inc. and others.

"This transaction represents a significant milestone for all three companies," said Stephen McNeely, Patrick CEO.

"The company will keep the same direction it's been on," said Mr. Eller, 67. "It has been very well operated."

Mr. Eller is expected to become chairman, with Mr. McNeely keeping his current post; his Eller Outdoor Advertising, Phoenix, will keep a separate identity.

Under GE Capital, Patrick has been expanding into Hispanic media and transit advertising in the last few years, with acquisitions like Aztec Outdoor, Chicago, and a contract with San Mateo County (Calif.) Transit District.

The Patrick sale has been planned since 1992, when GE Capital's investment with buyer Jerry Joyce went poorly.

Backed by GE Capital, Mr. Joyce purchased Patrick-then known as Foster & Kleiser-from Metromedia in 1986, and moved the company's headquarters from Los Angeles to Scranton, Pa., renaming it Patrick after his grandfather. GE Capital, dissatisfied with Mr. Joyce's leadership, took over complete ownership in 1992 and has since focused on restructuring and strengthening the company.

Patrick is being sold at a time when both the company and the outdoor business are strong. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America reported first quarter industry revenue growth of 10%, totaling $400 million.

Though the OAAA doesn't rank outdoor companies, Patrick is neck-in-neck among the three largest-which include Gannett and TDI-and had revenues of about $225 million in 1994.

"We're very happy we're the winning bidder," said Mr. Eller. "Patrick is one of the finest outdoor companies in the country; they have strong markets and great coverage."

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