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Great Wolf Resort

Madison-based Great Wolf Resorts has a new majority owner. Blackstone Real Estate Partners IX, an affiliate of Blackstone, and affiliates of the resort's existing owner, Centerbridge Partners LP, have formed a $2.9 billion joint venture in which Blackstone will own 65 percent of the company that is known for its woodsy 18 hotel and water park resorts throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Great Wolf Resorts has a new majority owner and more growth could be on the way.

The company, founded in Wisconsin Dells and with its corporate headquarters in Downtown Madison, is now owned by a joint venture consisting of Blackstone Real Estate Partners IX, an affiliate of Blackstone, and affiliates of the resort’s existing owner, Centerbridge Partners L.P. Under the $2.9 billion joint venture agreement, Blackstone will own 65 percent of the company that is known for its woodsy hotels and water parks throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“We have been very impressed by the evolution and growth of the company under Centerbridge’s ownership,” said Tyler Henritze, who leads U.S. acquisitions for Blackstone Real Estate. “We look forward to investing in these properties to further deliver for guests and grow the company.”

Great Wolf has 18 resorts, opening seven of those properties since 2015. The company will open its 19th next year in Manteca, California, located about 90 miles east of San Francisco. The 29-acre project will include water park amenities plus a 500-room hotel and become the company’s second California property, joining one near Anaheim.

“We are enthusiastic about partnering with Blackstone to continue accelerating the growth of the company,” said William D. Rahm, a senior managing director who also leads real estate purchases for Centerbridge. “Blackstone is one of the most experienced and successful investors in the hospitality and leisure industries, and is highly supportive of Great Wolf’s growth potential and each lodge’s ability to provide unparalleled experiences for families.”

Great Wolf Resorts was founded in 1997 by Turk Waterman and his family when they built what was then known as Black Wolf Lodge at Highway 12 and Interstate 90-94 in Lake Delton. Two years later they doubled the size of its water park to 40,000 square feet and expanded to 309 suites from 117. It now has 437 suites and 76,000 square feet of water park attractions. The Watermans sold the company in 1999 and it was renamed Great Wolf Lodge.

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Centerbridge purchased Great Wolf Resorts in 2015 from Apollo Global Management. That purchase, according to estimates at the time, was valued at $1.35 billion and came three years after Apollo had spent $798 million to acquire the company.

In 2018, Great Wolf opened water park resorts in LaGrange, Georgia, and Gurnee, Illinois, and named a CEO, Murray Hennessy, who had previously served as an adviser to Great Wolf’s senior management team during his tenure on the company’s board of directors. Late last month, Great Wolf opened its 18th location, a 350-room hotel and 85,000-square-foot indoor water park in Scottsdale, Arizona. Great Wolf now has 6,000 employees in 16 states and in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Centerbridge is a private investment management firm founded in 2005 that has approximately $27 billion in capital under management with offices in New York and London. Blackstone was founded in 1991, specializes in real estate investing and has about $154 billion of investor capital under management.

Hennessy said the joint venture between Centerbridge and Blackstone will further enhance Great Wolf’s ability to grow.

“Great Wolf stands to benefit greatly from Blackstone’s world-class insights and expertise in hospitality, and values Centerbridge’s continued involvement as we look to further expand the Great Wolf brand with the development of new resorts and enhancements to our renowned immersive family experiences,” Hennessy said.

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