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Blackstone Group may buy SeaWorld in San Diego

The private equity firm reportedly is closing in on a deal to acquire 10 theme parks owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

October 03, 2009|Stuart Pfeifer

SeaWorld in San Diego, the fourth-most-popular theme park in California, may soon have a new owner.

Reports surfaced Friday that private equity firm Blackstone Group is closing in on a deal to buy 10 theme parks owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Busch Entertainment Corp.'s largest parks include SeaWorld attractions in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, Fla., as well as Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, Fla., and Williamsburg, Va.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Blackstone Group is in the process of acquiring the theme parks for $2.5 billion to $3 billion. Executives at Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld and Blackstone declined to comment on the reported deal.

Like other theme parks, attendance at Busch's attractions has plummeted during the economic downturn. SeaWorld in San Diego attracted 4.1 million visitors in 2008, a 2.7% drop from the previous year, according to a report by the Themed Entertainment Assn. and Economics Research Associates. Busch Gardens in Tampa saw attendance decline 2% in the same period, according to the report.

Belgian beer giant InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch last year in a $52-billion deal that created Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewing company. At the time, InBev said it intended to sell non-core assets to help pay for the deal.

Blackstone Group is already a significant player in leisure and entertainment. Last year it acquired a stake in Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the casino and hotel company, and it is co-owner of Universal Studios Orlando. It also controls Merlin Entertainments Group, the company that operates the Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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