Capping its first year as a privately owned company, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment on Thursday imposed a companywide belt-tightening that cost 350 workers their jobs, including 126 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Well over two-thirds of jobs cut are in Florida, including 129 jobs eliminated in Orlando at SeaWorld Adventure Parks and corporate headquarters. The jobs cross most every department at a theme park giant that employs 20,000 people at 10 parks. Most affected employees learned their fate late Thursday, but some won't be told until today.
Attendance is running ahead of last year at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which employs about 2,000 year-round and bulks up to as many as 3,000, including part-timers, for peak season.
All the SeaWorld parks have been having a down year, because of declining attendance caused by a rugged economy and the death of an Orlando whale trainer. But officials said the expense-trimming was part of a larger internal operations realignment triggered by its first year under ownership of Blackstone Group, a New York private equity firm.
"We're calling it a restructuring," said Fred Jacobs, vice president of communications for the company.
The one-time theme park wing of brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Cos., — a collection of 10 parks, including SeaWorlds in three states and Busch Gardens in two — was sold off by AB's new Belgian owners in late 2009. However, aside from expense-cutting such as eliminating free beer samples, the Belgians pretty much left the payroll intact.
Under Blackstone, which also owns half of Universal Orlando, the former Busch parks saw their revenues this year shrink to $1.2 billion, down about $200 million. Still, Blackstone will increase spending on new attractions in 2011 by $30 million to $200 million while trimming the workforce.
"It's unfortunate, but necessary; part of the complex and challenging process of remaking ourselves as an independent company," said Jim Atchison, chief executive of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. "Our primary goal is to eliminate duplication of responsibility that affects performance, innovation and our ability to execute quickly."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.