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Orlando Sentinel

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Disney plans to open park in Hong Kong

by Richard Verrier of The Sentinel Staff, Published in The Orlando Sentinel on November 2, 1999.

A new Disney theme park, complete with a Sleeping Beauty castle and a Main Street USA, will be built in Hong Kong, Disney officials announced Monday night.

After months of negotiations, Disney and the Hong Kong government agreed to jointly develop a 310-acre Disney theme park on Lantau Island near the new Hong Kong International Airport in China. The project, which will be Disney's third international theme park, is expected to open in 2005.

"The original Disneyland theme park is one of the cornerstones of the Disney heritage, so the decision to build a new Disneyland is among the most important decisions our company can ever make," Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner said in a statement.

Overlooking the water at Penny's Bay, Hong Kong Disneyland will consist of six themed lands -- including Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland -- and will be patterned after Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Main Street USA will include special events celebrating the local culture, and the icon of the park will be a Sleeping Beauty Castle.

The project also will include up to 2,100 hotel rooms, and guests will be able to access the park by rail, highway and ferry.

Disney estimates the park, which will employ more than 18,000 people, will have an annual attendance of 5 million.

The theme park gives Disney access to one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing markets, one with a population of 1.2 billion people.

"Following an extensive worldwide review, we came to recognize Hong Kong as a unique city in an extraordinary nation at a remarkable time," Eisner said.

The new Disney resort furthers the company's push into the global marketplace. It will be the third overseas park for Disney and the second in Asia after the successful Tokyo Disneyland. Disney also has a park outside Paris, which opened in 1992.

The latest project is subject to approval from the executive and legislative councils in Hong Kong and the Walt Disney Board of directors.

Under terms of the deal, Disney and Hong Kong will be equity partners in developing the park, with Disney investing up to $314 million. The Hong Kong government would invest $2.9 billion to cover the bulk of the project's cost -- including roads, transportation and other services.

Hong Kong, a city of 6.8 million people, has been eager to entice Disney in hopes of boosting an economy battered by 15 months of recession.

"We are excited to have this opportunity to bring the Disney theme-park experience to one of the most exciting locations in the world," said Judson Green, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions and executive in charge of the project. "The agreement . . . represents an important investment in the future of Hong Kong tourism."

The site also could accommodate a second theme park and an entertainment district similar to Downtown Disney, said a source familiar with the project.

Disney officials also have not ruled out the possibility of opening a similar theme park in Shanghai, but those plans are sketchy.

Hong Kong officials first announced they were negotiating with Disney in March. The government already has agreed to rezone and reclaim the site for the proposed theme park.

Analysts have welcomed Disney's push into Hong Kong, over which China assumed control from Britain in 1997. Despite political risks, opening a theme park is in the company's long-term interest because China represents an untapped market with a rising standard of living, said Linda Bannister with Edward Jones in St. Louis. "China offers a lot of possibilities for Disney," Bannister said last week.

Still, the project carries some political risks for Disney, which angered Chinese officials in 1997 for distributing a film about the life of Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader. More recently, Chinese officials complained that Disney's animated feature Mulan, released earlier this year in China to weak ticket sales, was "too foreign-looking."

[Posted 11/02/1999 0:08 AM EST]


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