Anheuser-Busch InBev to sell SeaWorld, Busch Gardens

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Shamu, meet your new parents. Anheuser-Busch InBev said Wednesday that it will sell its 10 theme parks across the country, including the three SeaWorlds and two Busch Gardens, to private equity firm Blackstone Group for at least $2.3 billion.

The world's largest brewer, based in Belgium, has been shedding assets to help pay for the $52 billion takeover of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch that formed the company last year.

The two sides confirmed the deal Wednesday, saying Blackstone will pay $2.3 billion in cash for Busch Entertainment Corp. and give Anheuser-Busch InBev the right to up to $400 million of Blackstone's initial returns.

New York-based Blackstone's investments include Universal Studios Orlando and Madame Tussauds wax museums, so the theme parks fit into its portfolio.

Some amusement park operators are showing stress amid the recession. Six Flags Inc., saddled by debt, is in bankruptcy court protection. And the nation's top amusement park operator, The Walt Disney Co., is offering numerous discounts and specials.

Blackstone probably will try to get visitors to spend more at the parks by starting to charge money for extras like taking pictures with characters, said David Miller, an analyst with Caris & Co.

Busch Entertainment CEO Jim Atchison said the company looks forward to growing the business under its new owners and praised their experience in entertainment. Park guests and employees should expect to see only improvements, he said.

The brewer of top-selling Bud Light started Busch Gardens in 1959 at the Tampa brewery, Mr. Atchison said, first adding animals and eventually a full-fledged theme park.

Mr. Atchison said it was bittersweet that Anheuser-Busch would no longer be the company's owner, especially for him because he started his career parking cars at the Tampa Busch Gardens as a teenager.

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