Apax in Dubai theme park deal

The global private equity firm will bring a portfolio of children’s characters, including Barney, Pingu and Bob the Builder, to a new 25,000-square foot complex in Dubailand.

Thanks to a unique development deal between Apax Partners and Dubai World,  Barney, Pingu and Bob the Builder will move to the desert.

Dubailand, an entity of Dubai Holding’s Tatweer organization, has formed a “strategic alliance” with Apax, owner of the children’s classic, UK-based Hit Entertainment.

Barney and friends

Hit will help create a 25,000-square foot complex for Dubailand’s Global Village arena, with the opening planned towards the end of 2008.

Hit Entertainment’s chief executive officer, Bruce Steinberg, said the deal represented “an important strategic direction for the company” and their live events and attractions business.

As part of the complex, named the Little Big Club, Dubailand and Hit will create themed rides and indoor and outdoor play areas. They will also develop new concepts, including all-year round live shows, themed restaurants and retail outlets.

Mohammed Al Habbai, chief executive officer of Dubailand, added in a statement: “The alliance with Hit Entertainment is a continuation of our strategy of bringing the world's most prestigious names in the leisure and entertainment industries to Dubailand.”

British theme park designers RMA will design and project manage the construction of the Little Big Club.

Apax Partners is one of the world’s largest private equity firms and has raised more than $21 billion over the past 30 years. The firm’s last pan-European fund, Apax Europe VI, raised €4.3 billion in 2005. Apax bought out Hit for $928 million in 2005 in the process acquiring leading children’s character Barney, Pingu, Bob the Builder, Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.

Hit, which sells shows to more than 240 countries worldwide in more than 40 different languages, also acts as the representative for The Jim Henson Company. It recently sold Guinness World Records.

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who owns a 99 per cent stake in Dubai Holdings, hopes the $63.9 billion (€43 billion), 3 billion square feet Dubailand development will crown the region as the world’s top family tourist destination.

Dubailand will eventually play host a minimum of 55 hotels, theme parks, shopping malls, two cricket stadiums, a golf city and – once fully operational – a projected population of 2.5 million people, including tourists.