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White tigers settle in new home after Fertitta gets city's blessing

Houston Business Journal, December 2004 — by Jenna Colley

Date: Feb 6-12, 2004
Headline: "Fertitta could put tiger in an aquariums tank — Landry's CEO requests city review on proposal to show lions, tigers"

The Story: After extracting agreements from the city for a giant Ferris wheel and oversized signs, Landry's Inc. President and CEO Tilman Fertitta planned to bring a tiger and lion exhibit to downtown Houston.

No one could give a straight answer as to the legality of bringing tigers to town — but the general consensus among the halls of City Hall was that if there were a way, Fertitta would find it.

Word of his plans sparked a backlash among the animal rights community and drew heat from city councilmembers including Pam Holm, who said, "I have a hard time justifying this type of entitlement. In this instance, the city is acting too hastily, and we really need to be more responsible."

Two laws on the books may be capable of thwarting the restaurant and theme park impresario's plans to bring beasts on board, according to city legal eagles.

The first prohibits displaying exotic animals within city limits unless they are part of a zoo or a traveling licensed circus.

The second bans animals from food establishments unless they are part of a well maintained aquarium.

Included in the company's cadre of restaurants are Landry's Seafood House, Joe's Crab Shack, The Crab House, Willie G's, Cadillac Bar, Rainforest Cafe, Charley's Crab, Chart House and Saltgrass Steak House.

Fertitta gets what Fertitta wants. He has the tigers — four of them.

After the Downtown Aquarium received certification from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, allowing the facility to become home to large mammals, Fertitta didn't waste any time showing off his new acquisitions.

On Dec.1 he rolled out the new tigers while City Councilmembers Carol Alvarado and Bob Eury, president of Central Houston, Inc., and executive director of the Downtown Management District, looked on. The animals are the only white tigers in Houston and four of only a few dozen in the world.

Tigers aren't the only thing on Fertitta's mind.

In December, the company announced that it was arranging a new $400 million credit facility consisting of a $250 million revolving credit facility and a $150 million term loan, which will be used, along with proceeds of an offering of $450 million of senior notes, to refinance substantially all of its outstanding debt.

The new facility will be arranged by Wachovia Capital Markets LLC, Banc of America Securities LLC and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.