Brick by brick, a part of the Lego empire is up for sale.
The four Legoland amusement parks -- including one that opened near San Diego in 1999 -- are being shed by Lego Co., best known for its miniature plastic building bricks. The closely held toy maker, based in Billund, Denmark, disclosed the move Thursday as it announced that Chief Executive Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen was stepping down because of disappointing earnings.
The company was founded in 1934 by Kristiansen's grandfather, and a Lego executive said members of the family would be given the first chance to buy the parks.
But the parks, with rides and other attractions designed to look as if they were made of Lego bricks, might not be easy to unload to outsiders.
"The only intellectual property they have to offer is essentially an advertisement for Lego toys," said David Koenig, who has written several books about the amusement park business. "The whole park would intrinsically be an advertisement for the products of another company."
Lego hopes to complete the sale within a year, said company spokeswoman Charlotte Simonsen. The company declined to name an asking price.
The original Legoland that opened in Billund in 1968 is the only one to have earned back the money invested in it, Simonsen said. "In the toy business we have very fast product development," he said. "The park business requires a very heavy investment that takes many years to get back."
The two other European Legolands are in England and Germany. The only North American park, in Carlsbad, Calif., was opened at an initial investment of more than $150 million, according to John Jakobsen, president of Legoland California.
"It is a very asset-heavy business," said Jakobsen, noting that in 2004 more than $5 million was spent on new attractions.
The age of the target audience could be another deterrent for possible buyers.
"Unlike Disneyland, the Universal parks and a place like [Six Flags] Magic Mountain, there is nothing there for teenagers, honeymooners or any other adults without children," Koenig said. "By the time a kid is 10, he is moving out of the Legoland audience."