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Harcourt Brace Eliminates 150 Jobs at Sea World

August 24, 1988|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, parent company of the Sea World aquatic parks, Tuesday said it is eliminating 731 jobs, or 10% of the work force at its six aquatic and theme parks around the country. The reduction, which hit 150 employees at the Sea World park in San Diego, included some "fairly senior" employees, according to HBJ Parks Chairman Robert E. Evanson.

HBJ officials linked the cuts to soft attendance at the company's six theme parks across the country. The Orlando, Fla.-based publishing company also is burdened with payments on $2.7 billion in debt that it took on during 1987 to thwart British media tycoon Robert Maxwell's unwanted takeover attempt.

Park employees around the country heard about the long-rumored reduction Tuesday morning. HBJ gave affected employees the option of working through Sept. 6 or leaving immediately with two weeks' salary.

In addition to the 150 jobs lost in San Diego, the cuts included 215 jobs at HBJ's new Sea World park in San Antonio; 161 jobs at Boardwalk & Baseball, an Orlando-area theme park; 60 at Cypress Gardens; 115 at Sea World in Orlando, and 21 at Sea World in Cleveland. Nine jobs at HBJ's parks division headquarters in Orlando also were eliminated.

Evanson said the reductions "should be viewed as a permanent thing . . . it's not just because of an attendance shortfall."

However, HBJ did not eliminate "people who deal with animals or train them . . . and (park goers will not see) fewer ticket takers and longer lines," Evanson said. "We're not going to cut our own throats" by jeopardizing animal safety or reducing in-park services, Evanson added.

HBJ eliminated many supervisory jobs, and remaining supervisors will have to "increase the span of their supervisory duties," Evanson said.

The company also will make other "discretionary spending cuts," including the elimination of a traditional winter season program at the Sea World park in Ohio and the elimination of at least one attraction in San Diego. Additional cuts may be implemented during coming weeks.

Earlier this summer, HBJ eliminated or cut back television and print advertising for the parks while executives studied how to more effectively reach potential customers. That advertising and marketing review is still under way, Evanson said Tuesday.

Industry analysts downplayed persistent rumors that HBJ--which is best known as a book publisher--may be forced to sell its parks operation in order to reduce its debt.

"They're committed to selling (other assets) and they've got a lot of land that was being held for development," said J. Kendrick Noble Jr., a New York-based analyst with Paine Webber. "That land now is just a drain on profits."

The parks operation, acquired for $51 million in 1976, has become an increasingly important division of HBJ, which reported just over $1 billion in revenue in 1987. The parks typically generate about a quarter of HBJ's revenue.

HBJ's parks reported $12.1 million in operating income for the second quarter ended June 30, down from $14.3 million a year earlier.

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