Dec. 22--Private-equity colossus The Blackstone Group is no longer SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s majority owner -- though it remains the Orlando company's largest and most influential shareholder.
Blackstone last week closed an offering of 18 million of its shares in SeaWorld. It sold the stock at $30 per share, grossing $540 million. At the same time, SeaWorld itself bought another 1.5 million shares back from Blackstone.
As a result, Blackstone trimmed its stake in SeaWorld from about 63 percent to about 43 percent.
The move prompted ratings firm Standard & Poor's to raise SeaWorld's corporate-credit rating from "B+" to "BB."
"Although Blackstone maintains sufficient ownership to be able to influence SeaWorld's financial policy, we believe the company's financial policy will remain consistent with a significant financial risk assessment and that Blackstone will likely continue to reduce its ownership interest and effectively relinquish control over the medium term," S&P wrote in a note to investors.
Disney contract talks looming
With new contract talks looming, two of Walt Disney World's largest unions say more than 7,000 of their members have voted in favor of a new contract proposal that they intend to offer to the giant resort.
Representatives of Unite Here! Locals 362 and 737 -- whose members include attraction operators, janitors, housekeepers and food-and-beverage workers -- would not discuss specifics of their planned contract proposal. They said it was crafted following a "worker convention" in November that drew hundreds of their members.
The two unions hope the vote, which they billed as a first-of-its-kind membership poll, serves as a demonstration of strength before talks with Disney management begin in earnest early next year. It almost certainly signals a more aggressive negotiating approach from the Unite Here! locals, one of which has elected new leadership since the last round of contract negotiations.
The Unite Here! groups are only two of the six unions that make up Disney's Service Trades Council. But together they represent more than 20,000 of the council's roughly 35,000 members.
The Trades Council's current contract with Disney is set to expire in March.
Universal signs 'Potter' actors
Universal Orlando has signed up three actors from the "Harry Potter" movies to attend a fan convention planned at the resort early next year.
British actors James Phelps and Oliver Phelps, who played red-headed twins Fred and George Weasley in the Potter series, and Irish actress Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood, will appear at a "Celebration of Harry Potter," a three-day event that that will be held at Universal Orlando from Jan. 24 to 26.
Universal is expecting the event, which is being co-hosted by movie studio Warner Bros. Entertainment, to both goose business during a typically slow part of the year and, more important, to build hype for the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley," the new Potter-themed land scheduled to open by next summer in the resort's Universal Studios Florida theme park. The resort has promised to release "some special news" about the theme-park project during the convention.
Universal says it has already sold out of vacation packages tied to the event, which include admission to a private evening event. Fans can still attend the main convention by purchasing theme-park tickets.
Few details on music resort
Few details have emerged on Osceola County's proposed American Music Resort, which came to light last week when county commissioners voted to pursue the National Finals Rodeo. Officials said the event would be housed in the not-yet-built resort and its accompanying 24,000-seat arena.
A spokeswoman for the principals behind the project -- who have not yet been named -- released a statement Thursday confirming plans to build a new "destination resort" in Osceola but providing no additional details. "The resort will include a variety of lodging properties, restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues, plus a 24,000-seat enclosed arena. Many of the plans are still in development, and we will share additional details once confirmed."
The resort is planned for land owned by GP Limited Partnership, an affilliate of Xentury City Development Co. that also owns the land under the Gaylord Palms resort. According to Xentury City's website, it has been working for two decades to create a "city within a city" for commercial, retail and resort development, and has 242 acres available. Gaylord is the only major component that has materialized so far.