Blackstone sells stake in SeaWorld to China's Zhonghong Zhuoye

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Visitors attend the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014 REUTERS/Mike Blake (Copyright Reuters 2017)

China-based Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co Ltd will buy Blackstone Group LP's 21 percent stake in SeaWorld Entertainment Inc , the embattled U.S.-based marine park operator said on Friday.

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SeaWorld said Zhonghong Group would buy the stake for $23 per share, a premium of nearly 33 percent to the stock's close on Thursday.

Zhonghong Group ��� a diversified holding company for investments in real estate, leisure and tourism ��� will pay about $429 million for the stake, according to Reuters calculations.

Blackstone will no longer have any interests or board seats at SeaWorld after the deal closes in the second quarter of 2017.

Private equity firm Blackstone, which bought SeaWorld in 2009 for $2.3 billion, has been reducing its stake in the company since taking it public in 2013.

SeaWorld faced criticism after the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish", which depicted the captivity and public exhibition of killer whales as inherently cruel. The company said last year it would stop breeding killer whales in captivity.

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The company, which has reported falling revenue for the last three years and a loss last year, suspended dividend payments last year.

As part of the deal, SeaWorld will provide advisory services and support for developing theme parks, water parks and family entertainment centers in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, which would be operated by Zhonghong Holding <000979.SZ>, an affiliate of Zhonghong Group.

SeaWorld will also increase the size of its board to 11, including two executives from Zhonghong Group.

The agreement also contains restrictions on Zhonghong Group's ability to sell its interest in SeaWorld for a period of two years or acquire more than 24.9 percent of its outstanding shares.

(Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Martina D'Couto)