x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Potential developer of Dubai Legoland embarks on London IPO

Merlin Entertainments intends to sell at least 20 per cent of its shares in an IPO.

The Knights’ Kingdom at Legoland in Windsor in the UK. Merlin is planning to build a similar attraction in Dubai. Eleanor Bentall / Bloomberg News
The Knights’ Kingdom at Legoland in Windsor in the UK. Merlin is planning to build a similar attraction in Dubai. Eleanor Bentall / Bloomberg News

Merlin Entertainments, the leisure attractions operator that plans to build a Legoland in Dubai, will sell at least 20 per cent of its shares in an initial public offering in London.

The firm yesterday said it would raise £200 million (Dh1.18 billion) from the IPO on the London Stock Exchange and use the funds to pay down its debt.

The owners of Merlin – Kirkbi, a Danish investment company that controls The Lego Group, and the private equity firms Blackstone Group and CVC Capital Partners – will sell a portion of their equity stakes.

“Merlin Entertainments comes to the market with a consistent record of strong growth in both revenues and profits, and bright prospects for the future,” said Nick Varney, the chief executive of Merlin, in a regulatory filing on the bourse’s website.

Europe’s leading theme park operator and the world’s largest after the Walt Disney Company, Merlin operates 99 attractions across 22 countries. It pulled in more than 54 million visitors last year, generating total revenues of £1.07m.

In its filing, Merlin said the development of a Legoland Park in Dubai was one of its future growth highlights. Initially scheduled to open in 2011, the development was delayed after its local partner Tatweer, a leisure property developer, was dissolved in early 2010 as part of a shake-up of Dubai government-controlled companies during the emirate’s debt crisis.

But Merlin has said it remains committed to the attraction.

Merlin operates Legoland Parks in Denmark, Britain, Germany and Malaysia, as well as California and Florida in the US. It also runs the British resort theme parks Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures.

Kirkbi, which owns 75 per cent of The Lego Group, said it intended to remain a significant long-term investor in Merlin after the IPO.

“Merlin is positioned in the global leisure market, which is forecast to grow at 5 per cent per annum to 2016 and is experiencing a number of attractive trends,” the company said.

It said the growth of the middle class across regions, emerging markets in particular, and the increase in leisure time and spending would boost its business opportunities.

Dubai International Capital, a private equity investment arm of Dubai Holding, had been a key investor in Merlin; it has reduced its stake to 6 per cent from 17 per cent in 2010.

Dubai Holding is a conglomerate owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

tarnold@thenational.ae