Nick Varney said that Legoland is "actively engaged" in seeking partners to develop another park, which would be the company's fifth worldwide. Merlin Entertainments acquired controlling interest in Legoland in 2005, with funding from the private investment firm Blackstone Group. Blackstone holds 50 percent of the Universal Orlando resort, but Varney told Theme Park Insider that Blackstone's involvement would not move Orlando to the head of the list of potential sites for the next Legoland.
"Blackstone is the passive investor in Orlando," Varney said in response to TPI's question. "GE [NBC Universal owner General Electric] makes the decisions there." Varney would not rule out Orlando as a possible site, however.
"We have three parks in Europe. Looking to the future, in the blue sky, I could see three parks in North America, too. With a Legoland here in Southern California, it does not take a genius to see the Midwest and the East Coast as potential new sites," Varney said.
Varney also left open the possibility of working with another theme park company in developing the new park.
"We have a pretty strong track record in working in partnership," Varney said. "We have a SeaLife [aquarium] at Disneyland Paris Resort, and we are the only company to have partnered with Disney on an attraction in that way."
"We don't see it as a trench-defined battle," he continued. "If someone else has a complementary attraction, we'd be open to working with them."
Merlin Entertainments won't rule out cold weather sites, either.
"You can still get the same sort of [attendance] numbers [with seasonal parks]. Legoland Denmark is a case in point. It does the same sort of numbers as Legoland California, even thought it is only open only part of the year."
Varney said that the company's goal is to develop its Legoland parks as "mini Disney Worlds," destination resorts attracting visitors over several days, rather than just destinations for local day-trippers. As a result, Varney suggested that Merlin might build new installations of its SeaLife and Dungeon amusements next to Legolands, as well as working with local governments and developers to encourage more tourist development around the parks.
"With our Blackstone investment, we're taking the attitude that we were not going to be in a cost-cutting mode to improve profitability. We're in an investment mode to improve profitability."
Varney spoke to TPI and other reporters after a press conference to unveil "Pirate Shores," a $10-million new themed land in Legoland California. The land, to be built between the Flight Squadron attraction and Garden Green restaurant, will be anchored by "Splash Battle," an interactive aquatic shoot-'em-up, where riders cruise through pirate-infested waters, in boats armed with their own water cannons.
The area will also feature "Treasure Falls," a 12-foot-drop mini-flume ride that shows "what pirates do on their vacation," according to Legoland President and General Manager John Jakobsen. Two water play areas will round out the new land. "Squabbies Deck" is aimed at younger visitors, while "Soak-N-Sail" will provide 60 water elements for older kids.
Jakobsen declined to provide a specific opening date for Pirates Shores, announcing only that the land would debut sometime this summer. Construction has not yet begun on the site, as the Carlsbad city planning commission just gave its approval on Wednesday night.
In other news, Jakobsen confirmed that a new "Spellbreaker 4-D" movie will debut in May, alternating with the current Racers 4-D movie. (This corrects the initial report that Spellbreaker would replace Racers.)Tweet
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