Slowly but surely, Blackstone Group
Saturday's Wall Street Journal reported that Blackstone is nearing a deal to acquire Anheuser-Busch InBev's theme parks. The deal would be worth $2.5 billion to $3 billion, and it would hand over the Busch Entertainment Unit -- which owns the parks in the Sea World and Busch Gardens Parks -- to Blackstone, a private-equity firm that's quietly building an arsenal of gated attractions.
Blackstone already controls Merlin Entertainment Group, which has stakes in Legoland and Six Flags, and it also has a joint partnership with NBC Universal, which owns Universal Orlando. With Comcast
Blackstone clearly has an opportunity here. InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch for its brews, not for its 10 amusement parks. Short of Disney
International investors and rival private-equity firms are options, but Blackstone is the perfect fit. This deal wouldn't come as much of a surprise. Industry rumor and various news sites have been discussing the buyout chatter for months.
This deal would also breathe new life into the Legoland Florida expansion rumors that surfaced over the summer. Under the deal, Blackstone would own several parks in Central Florida between Sea World Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, and its sizeable stake in Universal Orlando. Carving out an East Coast Legoland would make sense, as it would arm Blackstone with the opportunity to take on Disney with annual passes and weeklong packages that include several parks within an hour's drive of one another.
Let's take this one turnstile click at a time, though. InBev has parks to unload, and Blackstone has the appetite and the blueprints to devour them. The timing couldn't be better: Blackstone has months to map out a comprehensive strategy before the peak 2010 summer season.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves hitting amusement parks with his family over the summer. He owns shares in Disney and units in Cedar Fair, and he's also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.