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InBev strikes deal to sell theme parks, including SeaWorld, for as much as $2.7 billion

Blackstone Capital Partners agrees to buy the 10-park Busch Entertainment chain, which draws about 25 million visitors a year.

October 08, 2009|Hugo Martin

Anheuser-Busch InBev reached an agreement Wednesday to sell its theme park empire, including SeaWorld in San Diego, to Blackstone Group for as much as $2.7 billion.

Under the deal, Blackstone will buy Busch Entertainment Corp., the nation's second-largest entertainment park operator, for $2.3 billion in cash and the right to collect on Blackstone's return, which is capped at $400 million.

Busch Entertainment of Orlando, Fla., operates 10 theme parks across the U.S., including SeaWorld parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio, and Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, Fla., and Williamsburg, Va. The parks draw about 25 million visitors each year.

The agreement was not a surprise considering that when Belgian beer giant InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch Cos. of St. Louis last year in a $52-billion deal, InBev officials said they planned to sell non-core assets to help pay for it.

In a statement, Carlos Brito, chief executive of Anheuser-Busch InBev, said: "Busch Entertainment Corp. is a high-performing asset with a world-class management team, but not a core business for Anheuser-Busch InBev."

Blackstone is already a big player in leisure and entertainment. Last year it acquired a stake in Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the Las Vegas casino and hotel company, and it is co-owner of Universal Studios Orlando.

The New York private equity firm also controls Merlin Entertainments Group, the company that operates the Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad and Madame Tussauds, the celebrity wax figure attraction with nine galleries in Europe, Asia and the U.S., including a recently opened attraction in Hollywood.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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