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Blackstone takes over, renames Busch Entertainment Corp.

Blackstone Group on Tuesday completed its $2.7 billion acquisition of Busch Gardens and nine other theme parks, giving its latest attractions industry venture a new name.

The former theme park unit of brewing giant Anheuser Busch InBev is now SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

"We've been removing the last Busch corporate icons from the parks, but plan to keep the Busch Gardens name for a long time," said Jim Atchison, president of both the new company and the one that ran the parks for Busch. "We chose the SeaWorld name because it represents our flagship brand.

Through a sponsorship with InBev, Blackstone will keep the Busch Gardens name at parks in Tampa and Williamsburg, Va. The trademark Clydesdale teams, which remain the property of Anheuser Busch, will leave the parks early next year.

Headquartered in Orlando, the new entity is the second largest theme park operator in the world behind Walt Disney Co.

But it's only the latest addition to New York hedge fund Blackstone's ownership in the theme park industry. Blackstone owns the British Merlin Entertainments Group, which operates the London Eye Wheel, Madame Tussaud's, Legoland parks in the United States and theme parks in Europe. Blackstone also owns half of Universal Orlando, the second largest theme park combination in Orlando which is going through its own corporate changing of the guard.

General Electric's NBC Universal owns the other half of Universal Orlando, but GE wants out of the entertainment business. It is negotiating a price and terms for Comcast Corp., the nation's biggest cable TV service, to buy NBC Universal including its TV networks, Hollywood studios and theme parks.

To set the stage, GE agreed to buy French Vivendi SA's 20 percent interest in NBC Universal for $5.8 billion. That deal would allow GE to sell all of NBC Universal to Comcast over seven years for about $30 billion. The deal must be approved by regulators including the FCC.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Blackstone takes over, renames Busch Entertainment Corp. 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 10:52pm]

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