Competitors for decades, the Quad-City Times and The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus will become part of the same company.

Lee Enterprises, the owner of the Times, announced Monday morning that it has purchased the Illinois newspapers, related publications and its online site for $7.15 million.

The sale is expected to close at the end of the month.

The purchase is a historic consolidation in a community that has been accustomed to seeing separate, competing newspapers, a rarity in markets the size of the Quad-Cities. Lee officials did say the two newspapers would continue to have independent newsrooms, and they pledged the papers on both sides of the river would retain separate editorial voices.

The purchase includes the newspapers and the website. The properties are currently owned by the Small Newspaper Group, which is based in Kankakee, Illinois.

Debbie Anselm, publisher of the Quad-City Times and Muscatine Journal, also will become publisher of The Dispatch-Argus, succeeding Gerald J. Taylor.

“Lee is honored for The Dispatch-Argus to be joining our media family,” Anselm said in a statement from Lee. “Our newspapers share rich histories of community leadership dating to 1851. In Moline, Rock Island, Davenport and Muscatine, we have embraced the same values for more than 150 years, an enduring commitment to strong local news and unfailing dedication to our readers and advertisers. That commitment and dedication will continue. The Dispatch-Argus will maintain its editorial independence and distinct voice as an indispensable community asset.”

Tom Biermann has been appointed general manager of The Dispatch-Argus, Anselm said. He is a former publisher of the Casper Star-Tribune.

“The Dispatch-Argus is a perfect strategic fit for Lee,” Lee President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mowbray said in a statement. “It is adjacent to two of our Iowa enterprises, in Davenport and Muscatine, so this will expand our audiences and create additional synergy opportunities. We expect the acquisition to provide immediate value." He said it would augment both earnings and free cash flow.

Nathan Bekke, vice president of consumer sales and marketing for Lee, made the announcement Monday morning at a newspaper-wide meeting at the Quad-City Times in Davenport. Anselm announced the acquisition to the Dispatch-Argus staff in Moline simultaneously.

In a memo to employees, Lee said it expected to retain "a sizable number" of Dispatch and Argus employees. Interviews will be conducted over the next few days, and the company hopes to extend offers by the end of the week, the memo said.

The Dispatch and Argus have combined daily circulation of more than 25,000. The Times' daily circulation is about 30,000.

The two Illinois newspapers were, themselves, owned by separate companies until 1986 when the Small Newspaper Group, publisher of what was then called the Moline Dispatch, purchased the Rock Island Argus from its owners, the Potter family.

Mark Schwiebert, who was Rock Island's mayor for 20 years, said there were concerns at the time that there might be a decline in coverage in their respective territories. He said the two newspapers by and large maintained coverage, something he said he would like to see continue with this combination.

"I would hope there would not be a loss of balanced journalism, reflecting the affairs of both sides of the river," he said Monday. Beyond news coverage, he said the papers have traditionally been actively engaged in their communities.

Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said he thinks the newspapers will function much as they are now. Thoms said he heard from Anselm about the pending purchase.

"I think that not much will change," he said.

Lee officials did say where it makes sense for the newsrooms to collaborate, they would.

Joe Taylor, the longtime president and CEO of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he thinks "there still may be two (editorial) voices with one ownership. All of us will have to adapt to it, not just the newsrooms but the whole community."

Tara Barney, CEO of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, said she also was notified of the sale.

"We know that mergers and acquisition happen readily, and we're always pleased when the result of those keeps both leadership and investments anchored in the Quad-Cities," she said.