Blackstone nears $3bn theme park deal

SeaWorld is among the theme parks Anheuser-Busch InBev may sell to the mega-firm. Meanwhile, CVC has reportedly increased the equity ratio in its €1.3bn bid for the brewer's CEE assets.

The Blackstone Group may be the next private equity firm to snap up non-core assets from brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.

A $2.5 billion to $3 billion deal for Busch Entertainment, one of the largest US theme park operators, is close to being agreed, according to numerous media reports.

The deal would be a joint investment between Blackstone's private equity and real estate divisions and their respective global funds, it is understood.

A Wall Street Journal article noted that if inked, the transaction would represent the largest private equity deal this year as well as the largest since the onset of the financial crisis.

The brewer's need to divest some $7 billion in assets and pay down debt already produced the largest private equity deal in the first half of the year: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' $1.8 billion deal for South Korea's Oriental Brewery. That deal included an $800 million equity component, half of which KKR then sold to Asian private equity firm Affinity Equity Partners.

SeaWorld Orlando: a whale of a deal for Blackstone

A deal has also been in the works for CVC Capital Partners to purchase Anheuser-Busch InBev's Central and Eastern European brewery assets. Anonymous bankers told Reuters Friday that CVC has raised its equity offer to between 60 percent and 65 percent of the expected €1.3 billion total bid to “make the deal happen”. That would bring its equity cheque to €840 million or more, up from €700 million, according to the report.

No details have emerged as to the likely debt to equity ratio for a potential Blackstone theme park deal.

Some of the US' best-known theme parks are owned by Busch Entertainment, including the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens chains. Also among the 10 total parks it operates are Water Country in Williamsburg, Virginia and Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

The company also has an agreement with Dubai government-backed real estate developer Nakheel to build four theme parks on The Palm Jebel Ali island in Dubai. The first phase is scheduled to open in 2012, according to Busch Entertainment's website.

Blackstone already has extensive amusement park holdings. Its Merlin Entertainment Group owns theme parks including Italy's Gardaland, the UK's Thorpe Park and the four Legoland amusement parks in the US and Europe.

Blackstone did not immediately return requests for comment.