Anheuser-Busch Buys Sea World, Other Theme Parks From Harcourt
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. announced Thursday it had agreed to pay $1.1 billion for the four Sea World parks around the country plus two other theme parks from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.
The deal will make Anheuser-Busch the second largest theme park operator in America, behind Walt Disney Co., and will help Harcourt pay off the massive debt it accumulated in thwarting a hostile takeover two years ago.
″We think this acquisition is a very logical move for Anheuser-Busch,″ said August A. Busch III, chairman and president of the company. ″We have been involved in the family entertainment industry for the last 30 years and it is a business we know well.″
The purchase was expected to be completed in November.
Anheuser-Busch, the world’s leading brewery, operates Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., one of the biggest four zoos in the country; a 17th century European-style park in Williamsburg, Va.; a water park in Tampa and a futuristic children’s park near Philadelphia.
The company also is planning a major theme park and resort along the Spanish Mediterranean coast just south of Barcelona, according to Vicki Pearlman, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch. The park is scheduled to open in 1992 or 1993.
Family entertainment is one of Anheuser-Busch’s four core businesses along with beer, food and container manufacturing.
The popular Sea World parks, which feature performing killer whales such as the famous Shamu, trained dolphins and other sea creatures, are located in San Diego; Orlando, Fla.; San Antonio, Texas; and Aurora, Ohio.
The other parks involved in the deal are Boardwalk and Baseball in Orlando and Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla. The purchase also includes land surrounding the three Florida parks and Sea World of Texas.
In New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday, Anheuser-Busch stock closed up 62 1/2 cents at $42.25, while Harcourt Brace rose 62 1/2 cents to close at $16.25.
Analysts say Orlando-based Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, a leading book publisher, is selling the parks in an effort to pay off a nearly $2.9 billion debt it accumulated in fending off a 1987 hostile takeover attempt by British communications mogul Robert Maxwell.
″They (Harcourt Brace) didn’t have a whole lot of choice,″ said Robert Dunlap Jr., analyst for Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.
But in giving up the theme park business, Harcourt Brace also is relieving itself of the chronic management problems and falling attendance at the six parks.
Attendance at the six parks dropped nearly 5 percent last year, due in part to bad weather, but the decline has continued this year, a company spokesman said.
In 1988, sales at the parks were $388 million and pre-tax earnings were $62 million, Anheuser-Busch said.. This year pre-tax earnings were projected to rise to $90 million, analysts said.
Although published reports earlier this month identified Anheuser-Busch as the likely buyer of the parks, only two bidders for the park actually went public with their plans. One was a group of former Harcourt Brace and Sea World executives led by Sea World founder George Millay. The other was from Florida Leisure Acquisition Corp., which owns the Silver Springs attraction in Ocala.
Harcourt Brace has been in the theme park business for 13 years.
The purchase price of $1.1 billion includes $975 million for the theme parks and the rest for the Harcourt Brace’s land holdings. The agreement also calls for Harcourt Brace to receive half of the profits over $100 million from any sale of the undeveloped land included in the deal.