Merlin Entertainment, the operator of Madame Tussauds and the London Eye, has bought a 145-acre site in Florida for a Legoland resort as it gears up for a £2bn stock market floatation.
The Blackstone-owned theme park operator is paying $22m for Cypress Garden, an existing theme park about 30 minutes from Orlando. It is expected to pump in a further $100m converting it into a Legoland that will go head-to-head with Disney’s theme parks.
Cypress Gardens attracts over one millions visitors a year but it has switched theme park owners several times over the past five years. But Merlin feels the branded approach with Legoland Florida will match the two million visitors a year reached by Legoland California.
Blackstone, which owns just over 50 percent of Merlin, is expected to announce the IPO on 15 February, according to The Times, with shares likely to be listed just before Easter. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will be leading the float.
Blackstone is also expected to sell down its holding in the IPO. Dubai International Capital, which sold the Tussauds Group to Merlin three years ago, is tipped to sell its entire 18 percent stake.
This week Blackstone launched the flotation of Travelport, in what is expected to be the largest float on the London stock market since before the financial crisis.
Nick Varney, chief executive, said: “The Florida market, with the odd setback in the recession and after 9/11 has shown consistent growth for the past 25 years.”
Legoland parks are located in Germany, Denmark, the UK and California. Merlin has signed a deal with the Malaysian government to develop a Legoland. Varney said he expected more in the pipeline.
“There will be more of these around. It is still a quite fragmented market. There are a lot of parks that are family-owned and there are some distressed corporates out there. From our perspective, a lot of these parks are under-managed.”
Mr Varney said the Merlin flotation was still an option under consideration. “We haven’t made a decision,” he said.