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Robert Trigaux

Busch Gardens owner will spin off theme parks in early 2013 initial public offering




Will investors in a SeaWorld theme parks IPO next year that includes Busch Gardens experience similar feelings as the riders of SheiKra in Tampa? Photo: Melissa Lyttle, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. Tampa's Busch Gardens boasts some neck-snappin' rollercoasters like the recent Cheetah Hunt. But the best ride may be crazy swings of the entertainment park's own ownership. Once again, it is about to change.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc., which owns ten parks including Busch Gardens plus SeaWorld Parks, Sesame Place and others, is going public in early 2013. Currently, Blackstone Group owns SeaWorld Parks but Wall Street firms Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been hired (says Reuters and this Bloomberg story) to handle an initial public offering next year with the goal of raising at least $500 million.

Blackstone bought the SeaWorld parks from beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev not long after InBev bought St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch. Curiously, Blackstone also owns Merlin Entertainments Group, which in turn owns LegoLand.

Hopefully, the IPO will allow the SeaWorld parks and Busch Gardens to focus on what they do best, and that this is not a jettisoning by Blackstone of an entertainment business that will then lack the deep pockets of a bigger owner to compete. This Orlando Sentinel story describes the "tumultuous" three years that Orlando's SeaWorld has sustained under Blackstone ownership.

As for Busch Gardens in Tampa, in 2011 it ranked 23d in attendance worldwide among major theme parks with 4.28 million, a 2 percent gain. It was right behind fellow park SeaWorld San Diego at No. 22.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 7:14am]


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