The company behind plans to build a Legoland theme park in Dubai is selling 20 percent of its shares in a $323m offer in London.

Merlin Entertainment said in an announcement to the London Stock Exchange that the proceeds from the initial public offering (IPO) would be used to pay down debt.

Merlin operates 99 attractions in 22 countries, including brands such as SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, The Dungeons, The Eye Brand, Legoland Parks and Legoland Discovery Centres.

It also runs resort theme parks Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures, Warwick Castle, Gardaland and Heide Park.

In May 2008, Merlin, the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, announced a strategic alliance with Tatweer, a member of Dubai Holdings, to create Legoland Dubailand.

The AED912m ($248.28m) project was to occupy a total of three million square feet inside Dubailand. Billed as the first Legoland theme park to be built outside of North America and Europe, it was to include more than 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions and was originally scheduled to open in 2011.

However in 2010, amid the financial crisis, the company admitted that “given the current situation in the region work on the project has been delayed, but both Merlin and our local partners remain entirely committed to building a Legoland Park in Dubai.”

That same year Dubai International Capital (DIC), the international investment arm of Dubai Holding, sold its seventeen percent stake in Merlin.

In its statement to the stock exchange Merlin said Blackstone, CVC and KIRKBI, a Danish family-owned holding and investment company which owns 75 percent of the Lego Group, would sell a portion of their shareholdings in the float.

The statement listed the development of Legoland in Dubai and potential sites in Japan, South Korea and, over the longer term, China, as “significant future growth potential based on continuation of a successful strategy”.

In 2012, Merlin recorded 54m visitors, generating total revenue of £1.07bn ($1.73bn) and underlying EBITDA of £346.0m ($557.97).

Nick Varney, Merlin CEO, said: “Merlin Entertainments comes to the market with a consistent record of strong growth in both revenues and profits and bright prospects for the future. We have successfully followed a clear and proven strategy to build a high-growth international family entertainment business, built on strong brands and a portfolio of attractions balanced by geographies, products and demographics.”

He added: “Our experienced team has the ability and ambition to deliver on our plans, as we develop our existing businesses and roll out Merlin’s unique portfolio of leisure brands internationally. The IPO will provide Merlin with the platform for our next stage of development and allow us to plan for the longer term.”

The minimum share size in the IPO is £1,000 ($1,613).

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Photo Credit: Guests aim water cannons as they participate in a ride at the World of Chima attraction at Legoland in Orlando, Florida. Marjie Lambert / Miami Herald/MCT