- Associated Press - Friday, February 24, 2012

NEW YORK — Fashion designer Kenneth Cole is offering to pay about $148.5 million to buy the rest of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., saying it would compete more effectively as a privately-held company.

But it appears investors want more than he is offering.

Cole, who serves as chairman and chief creative officer, currently holds about 47 percent of the stock and approximately 89 percent of its voting power.

The offer disclosed Friday would give stockholders $15 per share in cash, a 15 percent premium to the company’s Thursday closing price. The deal values the whole company at $280 million.

The company’s stock was trading above that price in morning trading, rising $2.55, or 19.5 percent, to $15.62 per share. Earlier in the session, the shares reached a new 52-week high of $16.

Cole said in a letter to the company’s board that market challenges have created an increasingly competitive environment and that it is now important to take on a more entrepreneurial perspective to help develop the company’s products, brands and business with a long-term approach.

“I believe it is increasingly difficult to develop this type of culture in a public company context, where the public markets are increasingly focused on short-term results. I am convinced that private ownership is in the best interests of the business and the organization and that this proposal is in the best interests of the shareholders,” he said.

The proposed deal is subject to the approval of the majority of shares not owned by Cole. Cole said that he won’t move forward with the transaction unless it’s approved by a special committee of independent directors. The special committee will include all directors except Kenneth Cole and CEO Paul Blum, the company said.

Cole said he has no interest in selling his stake in the business and would not vote in favor of an alternative sale or similar transaction. The company’s board said if it deemed it appropriate, it would solicit and consider any alternative transactions.

Cole expects to raise funds for the buyout partly through committed financing from third-parties.

The designer anticipates that the company’s management and employees will remain after the transaction goes through.