NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Private equity firm Apollo Management ( APO) is buying struggling water park operator Great Wolf Resorts ( WOLF) for $703 million, or $5 a share. The deal values Madison, Wi-based Great Wolf Resorts at a 19% premium to Monday's close and at a post-crisis high, after shares in the entertainment park company were more than halved during the crisis on a string of loss-making years. Separately, Great Wolf said that it would adopt a shareholder rights plan , otherwise known as a "poison pill" that will make it prohibitively expensive for a new investor to acquire more than 12.5% of the company's shares. Prior to Tuesday's announcement, Great Wolf Resorts shares rallied over 44% to $4.19, adding to a more than 11% 2011 stock gain. After news of the deal, Great Wolf shares rose over 21% to $5.10 in pre-market trading, above the offer price, and at highs not seen since September 2008.
In 2011, Great Wolf Resorts saw its annual loss narrow to $25 million after reporting annual losses of more than double that size in the previous two years. "After a thorough assessment, we concluded that the proposal put forth by Apollo is the best way to maximize value for shareholders, who will receive a substantial and immediate cash premium for their shares," said Kim Schaefer, Chief Executive of Great Wolf. -- Written by Antoine Gara in New York