Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Busch puts Dubai plans on hold

F1 theme park also delayed

The suspension of Busch Entertainment’s ambitious Worlds of Discovery project in Dubai and the delay Formula 1 theme park are some of the latest and highest profile casualty amid the current, some would say inevitable, construction setback in the United Arab Emirates.

The Orlando Sentinel reported February that Busch and its partner Nakheel, the state-backed real-estate company, agreed in January to halt work on the four theme park cluster because of worsening financial conditions. The two companies will reassess the project sometime this summer.

Busch wanted to build the parks – Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica – on a manmade island shaped like the killer whale Shamu (see picture above). The development, part of The Palm Jebel Ali., would have been the first time the four brands had appeared together in one place, or indeed outside the United States.

But, like several other leisure developments in Dubai, developers have been forced to take a reality check because of the international credit freeze. It could also be suggested that InBev, the Belgian brewer that acquired parent company Anheuser Busch last summer (after the World of Discovery deal was announced in February), has other priorities, although Busch denies this.

According to the Sentinel, Busch recently reassigned the handful of executives who were working on the Dubai parks and moved them back to its headquarters in Orlando. The first two parks – SeaWorld and Aquatica – were scheduled to open in December 2012.

Busch spokesman Fred Jacobs insists Busch Entertainment and Nakheel remained committed to the project and will move forward “when economic conditions permit.”

Since the start of the year, delays have been announced to several other theme park projects in Dubai, including a number of those at Dubailand. For example, Union Properties, which is building the Formula One theme park at Dubai’s Motor City, reports that construction of the $460 million project has been stopped because banks are no longer willing to lend money. After three years of construction around half the park is now complete and opening is now pencilled in for 2010. This has not surprised some observers.

“For over two years, we have been questioning the numerous theme park developments in Dubai,” comments Dennis Speigel of International Theme Park Services. “SeaWorld, Universal, Lego, Paramount, Warner Bros, Marvel, Six Flags and DreamWorks all announced they would be building multi-million/billion dollar projects. Dubai and our industry got caught up in a licensing/intellectual property engagement frenzy.

“Companies in Dubai who got caught up in this frenzy were willing to throw money at entertainment organisations to tie up naming rights. The park companies were willing to accept these upfront dollars and unrealistic relationships in order to get a “piece of the pie”. Designers, operators and suppliers all got caught in the frenzy. Now reality has set in and there is a huge work stoppage. This should surprise no one. Even in a decent economy, this plan was flawed and would not have come to

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