A long-running dispute that pitted the publisher of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly against billionaire investor Robert M. Bass came to an end yesterday, with Bass's group agreeing to drop its legal action against the company in exchange for an undisclosed payout.

The Bass group, which held 40 percent of the common voting stock in the Times Publishing Co., had sought a greater share of the dividend income generated by the closely held company. But the company had resisted Bass's attempts to redirect the dividends, arguing that that would undercut the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, an educational organization founded by Nelson Poynter, the Times's late owner.

In effect, the settlement reduces the overall number of shares, thus increasing dividends on the remaining shares.

The investment partnership Bass headed had framed the dispute as a violation of its rights as a minority shareholder. The company, meanwhile, said it was merely honoring Poynter's will and upholding its obligations to a nonprofit institution.

The complex settlement announced yesterday gives Andrew E. Barnes, chairman of Times Publishing and its holding company, voting control over all the Bass partnership's shares, thus removing any threat to the company's independence (Bass in February tried to buy control of the company but was rejected). In addition, Bass will sell back to Times Publishing an undisclosed portion of his investment group's 40 percent holding.

Although neither side would disclose the value of the transaction, newspaper analyst John Morton estimated Bass's 40 percent stake would have been worth between $150 million and $200 million in an open-market sale. Morton said the terms of the settlement were "murky," but added, "The upshot is, this company has less money {now} than it had before."

Times Publishing generates an estimated $200 million a year in revenue from the St. Petersburg newspaper, the weekly Congressional Quarterly and the magazines Governing, Florida Trend and Georgia Trend.

In exchange for agreeing to drop a lawsuit against Times Publishing, the Bass partnership received a commitment from the company "to increase substantially" the dividends on its common stock. The company also will retire the nonvoting preferred stock held by the Times's holding company and the Poynter Institute. The institute had been receiving about $1.2 million a year in dividends from its preferred stock.

In place of the preferred, the institute will receive an IOU from Times Publishing that will provide quarterly interest payments "at a level sufficient to ensure continued funding" of the Poynter Institute's programs, according to a joint statement from Bass and Times Publishing.

"I haven't had a completely peaceful night's sleep in two years, but tonight I intend to sleep like a baby," said Robert J. Haiman, the institute's president. "We are all enormously pleased and relieved."

The press-shy Bass has not made a public comment on the controversy since it began two years ago, and remained unavailable for comment yesterday.

Bass, who splits his time between Fort Worth and Washington, bought his stock in the media company's from the daughters of Nelson Poynter's sister Eleanor, who had waged a fruitless, 40-year feud with her brother for control of the family-owned company.

Despite its large holding, the Bass partnership received only 5.7 percent of the company's dividend income -- $244,000 last year. This was because the Bass holdings represented only 5.7 percent of all of the company's stock, after including preferred and nonvoting shares.

The partnership -- which included the dissident nieces Anne Poynter Jamison Parker and Mary Alice Jamison Griffin -- had filed suit to force the company to redeem the nonvoting stock, which would have made the partnership's dividend income equal to its share of the voting stock.