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China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co. acquired a 21 percent equity stake in SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. at $23 a share, becoming the U.S. theme-park operator’s largest shareholder.
The Asian leisure and tourism holding company bought the shares from Blackstone Group LP, which will exit the stock after a period marked by flat attendance and criticism over its use of killer whales in shows. Blackstone will no longer hold any stake in the Orlando, Florida, company or seats on its board after the deal closes, according to a statement Friday.
With the investment, SeaWorld will increase the size of its board to 11, with Yoshikazu Maruyama, president of Zhonghong Group’s American operation, and Yongli Wang, chief strategy officer of Zhonghong Group, taking seats, the companies said.
Also under the pact, Zhonghong won’t be able to sell stakes for a period of two years and must get the approval of independent directors to buy more than 24.9 percent of shares outstanding.
SeaWorld has been making changes to the parks, such as introducing attractions that don’t involve animal shows. Under pressure from activists, the company eliminated orca breeding and is focusing those animals’ shows on more natural habitats and behaviors.
The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.