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Universal Orlando Resort set for change of ownership as Blackstone looks to sell

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The Blackstone Group, which owns 50 percent of the Universal Orlando resort, has triggered a possible ownership change by offering to sell its stake to NBC Universal.

NBC Universal, which owns the other half of the resort, will have until June 12, 2011 to accept the offer. If it doesn't, then it will have to facilitate a full sale of the entire resort, which includes Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and the CityWalk nighttime entertainment district.

If NBC Universal declines the offer, Blackstone will have 270 days to sell the parks to a new owner. The situation is complicated by the fact the drawn-out takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast was only completed less than two months ago. Spokeswoman Cindy Gardner said the company is "considering its options".

Blackstone currently has a significant stake in Florida's theme park industry. The company owns SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment (which operates SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa, among other parks), having taken it over in 2009. It also co-owns Merlin Entertainments Group, which is currently constructing Legoland Florida.

The performance of the Universal Orlando Resort has improved significantly during the last year following the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. The new land was behind a 20 percent attendance boost during 2010, which led to record full-year profits of $267 million.

However, the SEC filing regarding Blackstone's offer to sell reveals that Warner Bros. could opt to terminate the license to use the Harry Potter characters if any new owners fails to meet "certain financial and reputation tests", or if quality levels drop at Islands of Adventure.

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