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NBCUniversal to buy Blackstone's theme-park stake

The company will pay $1 billion to acquire the private equity firm's 50% ownership in its Orlando, Fla., operations.

June 07, 2011|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

NBCUniversal has agreed to pay private equity firm Blackstone Group $1 billion to acquire its 50% stake in the Orlando, Fla., theme parks, giving the media giant full control of the venture.

The assets include Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk. Comcast Corp.-controlled NBCUniversal already owns all of the Los Angeles-based Universal Studios complex.

The agreement between NBCUniversal and Blackstone, which has owned half the Florida parks for more than a decade, places the enterprise value of the Florida attractions at $3.17 billion, the company said in a statement. That includes the assumption of debt.

The transaction, announced Monday, is expected to close by July 1.

NBCUniversal said the $1.03-billion expenditure would be funded with cash, borrowings under the company's revolving credit facility and a one-year $400-million note from a Comcast affiliate.

"The acquisition consolidates our ownership and confirms our long-term commitment to Universal Orlando and the theme park business," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said in the statement.

NBCUniversal faced a June 12 deadline to agree to buy out Blackstone's stake or risk having the entire venture shopped to outside investors. The decision was straightforward, in large part, because Comcast — which acquired controlling interest in NBCUniversal four months ago — has been pleased with the parks' financial performance.

"Universal Orlando is a consistent and significant driver of operating and free cash flow and is performing extremely well," Burke said.

Universal Orlando has been riding high on the success of its new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" attraction, which opened a year ago. Attendance at the Orlando parks jumped nearly 70% during the first quarter of this year.

Revenue for NBCUniversal's theme park unit increased 16% to $95 million in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, according to regulatory filings by Philadelphia-based Comcast.

The Florida complex includes the 30-acre Universal CityWalk, with restaurants, shopping and nighttime entertainment. Three hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and the Loews Royal Pacific Resort — share the site.

"We are proud of the extraordinary growth and success that Universal Orlando experienced during our 11 years of ownership," Michael Chae, Blackstone's senior managing director, said in the statement. The firm more than tripled its initial investment in the parks. "Throughout this period we have been committed to investing for long-term growth in partnership with the company's management and NBCUniversal, and we are gratified with the results of this strategy."

meg.james@latimes.com

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