By Tom Arnold and Hadeel Al Sayegh
DUBAI (Reuters) - Dubai's IMG Worlds plans to build the world's largest indoor theme park, based on children's TV and gaming characters, only months after another of its new resorts claimed the record for size.
Located in Dubai, IMG Worlds of Legends will feature eight property partnerships with global names such as Nickelodeon, Mattel and Pokemon, making the multi-billion dollar project one of the biggest global licensing deals of its kind.
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After years of few entertainment options in the Gulf, the vacuum is being filled as IMG Worlds and other theme parks and attractions pop up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Even Saudi Arabia, the region's most conservative country, is set for three new parks.
Sources told Reuters that Dubai-based parent company Ilyas & Mustafa Galadari Group (IMG) was working with JP Morgan Chase & Co, EFG Hermes and Goldman Sachs on a possible initial public offering (IPO) for 2017 as the park operator expands.
One of the sources said the plans could involve selling around 30 percent of the company and that it was exploring whether to list on the Dubai Financial Market or London.
Lennard Otto, chief executive of IMG Worlds, would not be drawn on any possible IPO, saying it was "merely a rumor."
"Are we open to a lot of different financing options? Yes, we are and we have kept a lot of channels open and once there is something concrete we will go out and announce that," he said.
Spread across more than 2 million square feet and featuring a retractable roof, IMG Worlds of Legends will be adjacent to IMG's Worlds of Adventure, which opened in August and stretches over some 1.5 million square feet.
The new park was likely to attract around 4 million visitors annually, roughly the same number as the existing park expects to draw.
Around half of those visitors would be residents of the United Arab Emirates, with the others expected to be tourists, including those from Gulf states, the Indian subcontinent, China, Britain and Germany, Otto said. There was no confirmed timetable for the building of the park.
Part of the funding for its building would come from profits from IMG Worlds of Adventure, with the remainder funded from a syndicated loan, Otto said.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank in 2014 arranged a 1.2 billion dirham ($327 million) syndicated Islamic loan for the building of that other park, which also included participation from UAE's Al Hilal Bank, Commercial Bank International, Noor Bank and Sharjah Islamic Bank. Some of those banks were likely to participate in the financing for the new park, he said.
(Editing by Keith Weir)