Venus Grafton, a wholly-owned subsidiary of a real estate fund owned by Leon Bressler’s investment firm Aermont Capital is close to completing a deal to buy the iconic Pinewood Studios and its parent company The Pinewood Group for around £320 million ($421 million; €379 million).
Pinewood, which owns studios in Buckinghamshire, Shepperton, Cardiff, as well as facilities further afield in Canada, the US and Malaysia, announced plans for a strategic review in February, citing a tightly held shareholder register which has stifled liquidity and prevented the business from listing on the stock exchange.
According to official documentation, Venus Grafton is owned by Aermont's PW Real Estate Fund III. The firm's three real estate investment funds have a total combined warchest of £3.4 billion.
Pinewood also states that due diligence has been completed on the deal and the next stage is for financing arrangements to be finalized, a process which could take up to four weeks.
Bressler, the managing partner of Aermont, described Pinewood as an “iconic brand at the heart of the global creative industries”.
“The transformation of the business in recent years has been considerable and it is clear that there are more ambitions to be realized. We are excited about the potential to support the business as an independent company,” he added.
“Aermont has a strong track record in operating companies with a real estate component. We look forward to working with Pinewood’s management team to deliver their compelling strategy for future growth, both in the UK and internationally,” said Bressler.
Some of the most well-known films in cinematic history have been made at Pinewood, including the James Bond franchise, “The Dark Knight,” the last two Harry Potter films, the original “Superman,” “Aliens,” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. The much-anticipated eighth episode of the Star Wars franchise is also due to be filmed at the studios this year.
Pinewood chief executive Ivan Dunleavy said: “We believe that we have found the right partner for the business and one that shares our long-term vision for the future of the group,” he said.
“Pinewood’s continuing commitment to the UK’s creative industries remains as strong as ever. Staff and customers can be assured that in this new strategic partnership our priority will be to not only maintain, but build on the world class provision of services.”
The Pinewood Group’s two largest shareholders are Goodweather Investment and jewellery retailer Warren James Holdings, which hold 39 percent and 26 percent respectively.
Pinewood has also confirmed it was given permission following a planning inquiry in 2014 to double the size of its film studio property over three phases, the first of which was completed last month.
In December, Aermont, formerly known as PW Real Assets, held a first close on Fund III garnering €1.5 billion in commitments, five months after launching the vehicle. The platform was the firm’s first fund since its spinoff last summer from its parent company, the New York-based boutique bank and advisor Perella Weinberg Partners.
Bressler, the former chairman and chief executive of French property giant Unibail, set up Perella Weinberg’s first real estate fund in 2006 and raised two funds before the separation. Aermont now operates independently from Perella Weinberg and continues to focus on European real estate investments across a number of property types, investing in both properties and private operating companies.
Investment bank Rothschild is advising Pinewood on the deal.