Blackstone Group, the New York private equity firm that owns half of Universal Orlando, is "close to a deal" to acquire all 10 Busch Entertainment Corp. theme parks including Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa and SeaWorld from its Belgian owners, the Wall Street Journal said Friday, quoting unnamed sources.
While talks with Anhueser Busch InBev have gone on for months, any deal would have a lot of moving parts. Blackstone needs an okay from its partners in Universal, NBC Universal, to buy any theme park in Central Florida. GE and Vivendi, meanwhile, are reportedly weighing getting out of the entertainment business by selling their interests in NBC Universal to cable TV operator Comcast Corp.
Blackstone owns the British Merlin Entertainments Group, which runs several European theme parks and Legolands and is poised to take Merlin public. There is speculation that combining the Busch parks with Merlin would make a public stock offering more appealing.
InBev is beyond halfway to a goal of selling $7 billion in assets this year. This week the brewer raised $870 million more by selling U.S. can and lid plants to Ball Corp.and Tennents Lager in Scotland and Ireland.