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Busch Gardens executive will head Dubai theme parks

TAMPA — Donnie Mills, top executive at Busch Gardens Africa for a year, will lead the startup team at Worlds of Discovery Dubai, a multibillion-dollar theme park destined for a new global tourist metropolis.

The ruling family of Dubai is paying Busch Entertainment Corp. to build and manage three parks — Sea World, Aquatica and Busch Gardens — on a 300-acre man-made island shaped like Shamu that's being pumped from the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

A University of South Florida graduate who started his 34-year theme park career as a Tampa high school student working in the Busch Gardens parking lot, Mills will be executive vice president and managing director of all three Dubai parks. A Sea World and an Aquatica water park are scheduled to open there in 2012, with a Busch Gardens to follow in 2015.

Busch officials said Mills' replacement in Tampa will not be named for several months because Mills' overseas transition begins in late 2009.

Mills, 50, has held executive jobs in five of the 10 parks operated by the theme park unit of brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Cos. His elevation comes as Busch Entertainment is in a state of flux.

The parent company split the theme park headquarters from the beer company in St. Louis in the spring by moving the corporate offices to Orlando. In August, Brazilian-controlled, Belgian-based brewer InBev struck a deal to buy Anheuser-Busch for $52-billion. That deal is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The new owners will weigh offers to sell the theme parks, including Busch Gardens in Tampa.

Among the likely bidders for the parks: Merlin Entertainments, a British park operator with backing from U.S. hedge fund Blackstone Group; Parques Reunidos, a Spanish theme park operator owned by the British private equity fund Candover; or one of the investment groups controlled by the ruling family of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.

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

Busch Gardens executive will head Dubai theme parks 09/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 1:29pm]
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