British property-investment company St James Capital (SJC) has linked up with Japanese bank Nomura International to buy London-based Earls Court and Olympia (EC&O), one of Europe's leading music v

British property-investment company St James Capital (SJC) has linked up with Japanese bank Nomura International to buy London-based Earls Court and Olympia (EC&O), one of Europe's leading music venues and exhibition centers, for £245 million ($429 million).

The venue's new owners plan to expand it into a $1.75 billion European leisure and live-entertainment operation, with music entertainment remaining a priority.

SJC will be the majority shareholder with a 75% share, while Nomura Asset Finance controls the remaining 25%.

The sellers are senior EC&O managers, including CEO Andrew Morris, together with British private investment firms Candover and Legal & General Ventures.

"It's very much business as usual and the changes in no way affect EC&O's commitment to live music and events," Anthony Lyons, SJC's former managing director and EC&O's new CEO, tells Billboard.biz.

"In fact, we recently hired Suzi Pollock, our new entertainment manager, who joined us from (promoter) Harvey Goldsmith, in order to focus on attracting not only more music, but other special events to the venues in the future," Lyons adds.

In 2003, the venue brought in 2.5 million visitors and 30,000 exhibitor clients. The goal is to improve on EC&O's 175 exhibitions, 150 conferences, and the 20 live concerts and shows held in the 20,000-capacity Earls Court arena every year.

The arena has hosted the Brits Awards, and performances by Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney and Madonna, among others.

EC&O's assets include 42 acres of real estate and 1.3 million square feet of exhibition floor.

Key to the overall strategy is the addition of a casino, which is to be constructed through a joint venture with United States-based MGM Mirage. Part of the Olympia exhibition site would be converted to make way for the casino. That development, which depends on the proposed deregulation of the United Kingdom's restrictive gambling laws, would also feature stores, bars and restaurants.

"The key challenges before us are to expand and develop the existing exhibitions and events business on a national and European basis," Lyons adds.