Blackstone Buys Madame Tussauds Chain

Blackstone Group agreed to buy Tussauds Group, owner of London's Madame Tussauds wax museum and five other locations around the world, for $1.9 billion.
Blackstone Group agreed to buy Tussauds Group, owner of London's Madame Tussauds wax museum and five other locations around the world, for $1.9 billion. (By Suzanne Plunkett -- Bloomberg News)
By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Private-equity giant Blackstone Group said yesterday that it had created the world's second-largest theme park group, behind Walt Disney Co., with its $1.9 billion buyout of Madame Tussauds waxworks museums.

Madame Tussauds will be managed by Merlin Entertainments Group, which is controlled by Blackstone. The combined company said it will operate 50 theme parks throughout the world, including Legoland, Sea Life and the London Eye. They drew more than 30 million visitors in 2006, second only to Disney's parks.

The move by Blackstone is part of an aggressive push into the theme park business that began two years ago with its acquisition of Merlin, an international theme park company, for $187 million. It then backed Merlin's purchase of the Legoland chain later in 2005 and Gardaland, Italy's biggest theme park, last fall.

Blackstone, one of the largest private-equity firms in the world, also was a member of the group that bought Universal Studios in Orlando and is an investor in Six Flags theme parks. Last month Blackstone made a huge splash by closing the biggest buyout deal ever when it purchased Equity Office Properties Trust for $39 billion.

Merlin executives said they planned to focus on expanding the wax museum company, which has 14 million visitors a year and operates six museums around the world, as well as other theme parks, hotels and a castle in Europe. It recently bought the London Eye, a giant observatory in that city and one of England's most popular attractions.

"The combined group . . . has the resources and expertise to focus on accelerating current expansion plans for all the brands, particularly in North America," Merlin's chief executive, Nick Varney, said.

A new Madame Tussauds wax museum is scheduled to open this October in the old Woodward & Lothrop department store building on the corner of 10th and F streets NW. The $16 million project will include replicas of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as well as likenesses of presidents and other newsmakers. Visitors also will be able to visit a replica of the Oval Office and be greeted by a wax version of Abraham Lincoln.

Another new museum is slated to open in Hollywood in 2008.

Tussauds, a private company, was purchased for $1.5 billion in May 2005 by Dubai International Capital. Dubai International will receive just shy of $2 billion in cash in the deal and retain a 20 percent stake in the company.


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