Merlin Entertainments, the British company that owns the Legoland Florida, Madame Tussauds and Sea Life Aquarium attractions in Central Florida, is recommending acceptance of a takeover bid by a consortium that includes the Kristiansen family, the wealthy Danes behind Lego.
The deal, valued at more nearly $7.6 billion when including debt, also involves the Canadian pension fund CPPIB and private equity firm Blackstone, which controlled the SeaWorld theme park chain from 2009 until selling its stake in 2017. Under the terms of the acquisition, Merlin would become a private company, split 50-50 between Blackstone and the Kristiansen family’s Kirkbi investment company, which owns around 30 percent of Merlin shares.
Merlin’s board was unanimous in recommending that shareholders approve the deal.
“Following an unsolicited approach by a Consortium of investors, and after rejecting a number of their proposals, the Merlin Independent Directors believe this offer represents an opportunity for Merlin Shareholders to realise value for their investment in cash at an attractive valuation,” Merlin chairman Sir John Sunderland said in a statement.
Legoland Florida deferred Orlando Rising’s request for comment on whether the ownership would affect park operations to statements made by the consortium seeking to buy Merlin.
“With a shared understanding of the business and its culture, we believe that this group of investors has the unique collective resources necessary to equip Merlin, including the Legoland Parks and Legoland Discovery Centres, for their next phase of growth,” said Soren Thorup Sorensen, CEO of Kirkbi. “We are committed to ensuring Legoland and the other activities in Merlin reach their full potential, which we believe is best pursued under private ownership, in order to deliver fantastic experiences to visitors of all ages around the world.”
Merlin is the No. 2 theme park group in world in terms of attendance behind Disney. It owns more than 130 attractions in 25 countries, including the Legoland theme park chain, which has two U.S. locations: one in California and the Florida park in Winter Haven, which opened in 2011.
While Legoland Florida is not among North America’s 20 most-visited theme parks, it is in the midst of an expansion. Earlier this year, it added Lego Movie World and will open a new pirate-themed on-site hotel in 2020.