Merlin Entertainments Acquires Underwater Adventures, Minnesota

11 December 2008
 UK based Merlin Entertainments, the world's second largest visitor attraction operator, today announced the acquisition of the Underwater Adventures Aquarium in Minnesota, USA, from The Minnesota Aquarium LLC, for an undisclosed sum.

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Underwater Adventures is located in the iconic Mall of America in Minnesota and currently welcomes more than 600,000 visitors a year to its impressive displays of living marine creatures.

This acquisition underlines Merlin's expertise in the operation of marine attractions. The company is already the world's leading operator of aquaria through its SEA LIFE brand which welcomes over 10 million visitors a year to its 28 sites including its recently opened site at LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, California - the company's first SEA LIFE location in North America.

With 58 attractions around the world Merlin is the leading name in location based, family entertainment; and has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years. It aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 34.7 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global brands, such as Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE, Dungeons, London Eye and LEGOLAND; and the commitment and passion of its managers and 13,500 employees.

This acquisition is an important part of Merlin's overall growth plan for N America, enhancing Merlin's existing portfolio of six US attractions. It also follows the successful opening in 2008 of its LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Schaumburg, outside Chicago; and SEALIFE centre in the LEGOLAND Park in Carlsbad California.

With several other new attractions already due to open in North America in 2009 including Madame Tussauds in Hollywood - the company is also actively progressing negotiations on a number of sites for 2010 and beyond.

Merlin believes The Underwater Adventures Aquarium is an excellent addition to its existing portfolio and offers a number of important strategic advantages:

-- It offers huge potential to build on the current success of the attraction to further develop the profitability and visitor numbers of the Underwater Adventures business. Merlin plans to invest around $5m to improve the product offering, dwell time and overall enjoyment of the attraction.

-- SEA LIFE and Underwater Adventures have very complementary market positions - each taking an ethical approach to marine conservation with a strong emphasis on education and 'fun learning' - a core theme for Merlin.

-- UWA represents a key acquisition in Merlin's worldwide expansion plan - which is to open 4/5 new attractions every year in its 'midway' portfolio ie short stay/city centre brands such as Madame Tussauds, SEALIFE, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre and Dungeons brands.

Retail linked projects are also of particular interest to the company for the future. The Underwater Adventures' location was a key factor in the deal, and Merlin believes developing a close working partnership with landlords Mall of America will be key to the future success of the attraction. Commenting Don Ghermezian, President of Triple Five, said "We are delighted to be working with a company of Merlin's size and expertise. Leisure is key to our growth plan for the Mall of America, Minnesota, and we have no doubt that the partnership with Merlin will play a key role."

Commenting, Todd Peterson Chairman of Minnesota Aquarium LLC said: "Merlin was the ideal buyer for Underwater Adventures. They understand aquaria but also our ethos, our commitment to the local and regional markets, and have the capital and the expertise to continue to build on the success we have created."

Glenn Earlam, Managing Director, of Merlin's Midway Operating Group concluded: "This is a very exciting acquisition for us. Merlin began with SEA LIFE. Since then we have continued to successfully demonstrate our belief in the continuing fascination of aquaria as a leisure destination across the world. Underwater Adventures is an excellent regional attraction, in a market which is very important to our future growth strategy. It has huge potential for further development, and will also offer an excellent base on which to develop other attractions in the future. Indeed we are constantly looking for suitable sites in N America working with specialist real estate company - Howard Samuels."

About The Merlin Entertainments Group

The Merlin Entertainments Group is the leading name in location based, family entertainment, which has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years. The world's second largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin has 58 attractions and 6 hotels in 12 countries, across 3 continents. The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 34.7 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and 13,500 employees. Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions - SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, The London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, The London Aquarium, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, THORPE PARK, Chessington World of Adventures & Zoo, Heide Park, and Earth Explorer.

Merlin's SEA LIFE attractions are an ideal, friendly and authoritative guide to the last great frontier...the seas and oceans of the world and their myriad mysterious and amazing inhabitants. Unrivalled display technology, biological expertise and entertainment skills combine to provide seamless journeys through European and tropical waters, and astonishing close encounters with everything from humble shrimps and starfish to seahorses, sharks and stingrays. SEA LIFE champions the cause of marine conservation, through education, awareness and, wherever possible, direct action through its SOS programmes (Save Our Seas) - the most recent of which is SOS Innocent Victims - looking at those creatures caught in fisherman's nets which are not the primary prey; or which are too small to be valuable but whose unnecessary death impact species' breeding potential.

About The Minnesota Aquarium LLC -

Underwater Adventures has the largest shark collection in the U.S. with 225 specimens and 41 species. Animal Planet calls it the "Best Shark Exhibit on the Planet" and Discovery calls it the "World's Best Shark Encounter". More than 80,000 school children experience Underwater Adventures each year through its education program, which includes placing shark eggs in classrooms where students witness shark hatchlings. With more than 1.2 million gallons of water, Underwater Adventures is the sixth largest aquarium in the U.S. and is the World's Largest Underground Aquarium. Visitors glide through its signature Glass Tunnel that winds through the massive tanks below the Mall of America. For more on the Famous Sharks and 4,500 other sea creatures at Underwater Adventures, bite into www.sharky.tv

Source: Merlin Entertainments

Merlin Entertainments
Sally Ann Wilkinson/Penny Roberts
+00 44 20 8899 6110/ +00 44 7774 415372
saw@thefirmcomms.com
or
The Minnesota Aquarium LLC
Cathryn Kennedy
952.944.6559/office / 612.309.3951/mobile
cathryn@cathrynkennedy.com
or
Real Estate Enquiries in North America contact:
Howard Samuels
(313) 203 8301 hsamuels@samuelscompany.com
1940 Century Park East, Suite 200
Los Angeles, California 90067 USA