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EMI says wants to hold on to Abbey Road studios


Pedestrians cross the road outside the Abbey Road Studios, in north London February 17, 2010. REUTERS/Jas Lehal
Pedestrians cross the road outside the Abbey Road Studios, in north London February 17, 2010. REUTERS/Jas Lehal

LONDON (Reuters) - Music company EMI wants to retain ownership of the Abbey Road recording studios, immortalized by the Beatles album of the same name, though it is talking to other parties about revitalizing the site, EMI said on Sunday.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters last week that loss-making EMI had put the studios up for sale and was talking to a few interested firms, although no deal was imminent.

"EMI confirms that it is holding preliminary discussions for the revitalization of Abbey Road with interested and appropriate third parties," the company said in a statement, without elaborating on what exactly the talks were about.

EMI said it had been in discussions since November 2009 to find ways to regenerate the studios, which have been losing money for years, but had rejected an offer worth 30 million pounds ($46 million).

"We believe that Abbey Road should remain in EMI's ownership," the company said.

Millions of Beatles fans around the world are sentimentally attached to the studios, which are also popular with tourists who pose for souvenir snaps on the nearby pedestrian crossing where the Beatles are pictured on the album cover.

EMI said it welcomed reports that the architectural preservation body English Heritage planned to list Abbey Road, a step that would make it very hard for any developer to do anything radical to the site.

Such a listing could potentially lower the price EMI could get for Abbey Road if it did end up selling it.

The firm, owned by private equity group Terra Firma, said any plan it agreed for Abbey Road would involve "a substantial injection of new capital."

"When Terra Firma acquired EMI in 2007, it made the preservation of Abbey Road a priority," EMI said.

Last week's reports the studios were up for sale attracted a lot of interest, including from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who said the studios should be saved, and musical theater maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber, who signaled he was a potential buyer.

Lloyd Webber, the man behind blockbuster musicals "Cats," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," has recorded some of his works at Abbey Road.

The 4-billion-pound acquisition of EMI has come to symbolize the difficulties caused by expensive buyout deals struck at the height of a private equity bubble. EMI's high debt and poor performance have become a burden for Terra Firma.

The private equity firm recently launched a lawsuit against Citigroup, claiming the U.S. bank had inflated the price of EMI during the sale process by failing to reveal that another bidder had withdrawn. Citigroup denies the allegation.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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