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Robert Trigaux

Busch group shelves Dubai theme parks



Donniemillsbuschmelissalyttle Wake up and good morning. To mangle Sinatra's "doobee doobee doo" from Strangers in the Night, it's now "Dubai Dubai Don't" when it comes to building four mammoth Middle East theme parks on an artificial island -- with the help of Busch Entertainment (which runs Tampa's Busch Gardens and Orlando's Seaworld, among  other sites). That's bad news for Busch Entertainment's Donnie Mills, general manager of Tampa's Busch Gardens Africa and Adventure Island (in photo by Melissa Lyttle of the St. Petersburg Times). More on him below.

Busch Entertainment has shelved plans to build four parks in Dubai, making the project the Middle Eastern state's latest casualty amid the international credit freeze. So reports Orlando Sentinel business columnist Beth Kassab in this story. Worlds of Discovery was announced just a year ago with a media spectacle that included performing killer whales and renderings of the parks on a man-made island shaped like SeaWorld's signature Shamu. Busch Entertainment President Jim Atchison touted it as a "momentous occasion" and a chance to put the Busch brands on a "true global stage," Kassab reports in today's newspaper.

Dubaibuschshamu Now that deal is mothballed if not kaput entirely. Busch Entertainment, part of Anheuser Busch which in turn is now owned by Belgium's InBev, and partner Nakheel PJSC, a state-backed real-estate company and a major Dubai developer, agreed to suspend work because of worsening financial conditions. The two companies, says Kassab, will reassess the project this summer. The plan was to build four theme parks on an artificial island shaped like Shamu. (Image from AP.)

In the second image, an aerial photo, you can see the Shamu-shaped island in the upper right portion of the photo, at the top of the palm tree-shaped islands. (Image courtesy of Nakheel.)

Dubaithemeparkaerialnakheel Wow. Not a good week for the theme park world. I thought Walt Disney Co. reporting on Tuesday a big drop in earnings and a slip in theme park attendance was rough but certainly in line with this nasty recession. But pulling the plug on Dubai's "recession?-what recession?" economy hits home the fact that the global economy is in a major funk.

Which brings us back to Tampa's Donnie Mills, who had been picked by Busch Entertainment after 34 years in theme park management, to serve as the Dubai-based managing director of Worlds of Discovery Dubai. Mills and wife Norene had visited construction-crazed Dubai and were brushing up on Middle Eastern customs in advance of relocating there. They studied the language via Rosetta Stone software, at least enough to get some idea of the topics of conversation around them.

Who knows? This may only be a temporary setback. But it had set the world's imagination on fire of what Middle Eastern money and western imagination could conjure up.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:23am]


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