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Sale of Great Wolf Resorts to Apollo Global Complete for Nearly $800 million

By Bill O'Brien, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 15, 2012--TRAVERSE CITY -- One of the area's largest resorts is back in private hands after a nearly two-month-long bidding war over its ownership chain.

The Great Wolf Lodge along U.S. 31 in Garfield Township is a property of an affiliate of Apollo Global Management, a New York-based private equity firm that purchased the Great Wolf Resorts chain in an estimated deal of nearly $800 million finalized this month.

Apollo partner Scott Ross said the company expects "Great Wolf will prove to be a strong addition to the Apollo portfolio of investments," according to a statement. Local Great Wolf management didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

The acquisition battle over the Great Wolf chain began in March when Apollo offered $5 per share for the company, a bid that upset some major stock holders for being too low. KSL Capital Partners, a Denver investment firm and a former owner of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, started a bidding war when it countered with a $6.25 per share offer in early April.

Apollo then raised its offer to $6.75 per share, and KSL came back at $7 which Apollo matched. KSL countered again at $7.25 per share before Apollo responded April 20 with a $7.85 per share offer. KSL said it wouldn't make any more bids and Apollo's acquisition was confirmed May 4.

Great Wolf's stock price surged during the bidding effort. It traded around $4.20 per share before the initial Apollo bid, but shot up to more than $8 in late April.

Great Wolf's stock listing was removed from the NASDAQ exchange following its acquisition by Apollo, which manages more than $75 billion world-wide in private equity, credit-based capital markets and real estate funds. Great Wolf had been publicly traded since late 2004. It was once worth close to $24 per share before poor earnings and the recession sent its stock price tumbling. It traded as low as $2.10 per share in the past year.

Local tourism officials don't expect the ownership change to have a significant short-term impact on local resort operations. Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, anticipates business as usual for now at the lodge and said new ownership could bring more investment to the water park chain.

"I think Apollo could have some opportunities for Great Wolf," he said. "Financing hotel projects isn't an easy thing right now."

Great Wolf is based in Madison, Wis. and opened the 280-room Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City in 2003. It's the largest indoor water park chain in North America and operates 10 other resorts in the U.S. and Canada. Other properties are in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.; Sandusky, Ohio; Kansas City, Kan.; Williamsburg, Va.; the Pocono Mountains, Pa.; Mason, Ohio; Grapevine, Texas; Grand Mound, Wash.; and Concord, N.C. It also has a lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario.


(c)2012 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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