Shanghai (AFP) April 8, 2011
Walt Disney Co. was expected to break ground Friday on mainland China's long-awaited first Disneyland theme park in hopes that Mickey Mouse and friends will prove a hit in the country of 1.3 billion.
Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Iger was expected to lead a ground-breaking ceremony in Shanghai, capping more than a decade of negotiations with the Chinese government to bring the Magic Kingdom to China.
Final construction approval was expected to be issued Friday for the 24.4 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) project that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs has called the "most exciting opportunity since Walt first bought land in Florida in 1964".
The theme park is expected to take five years to build, with Disney a minority shareholder in the project and government-run Shanghai Shendi Group Co. holding a majority stake, previous state media reports said.
The structure mirrors that between the Hong Kong government and Disney for Hong Kong Disneyland.
The Hong Kong park has had a bumpy ride since opening in 2005, with critics in the southern Chinese territory saying low attendance has not justified the public investment.
Mainland China is the biggest source of customers for Hong Kong Disneyland, accounting last year for 2.2 million visitors, or 42 percent of the total.
The Shanghai park will allow Disney to tap China's market like never before, attracting visitors who previously could not afford -- or found it difficult to obtain the required transit permits -- to travel to Hong Kong.
The park is also expected to help redefine Shanghai as a leisure destination instead of mainly a business city, travel industry experts said.
"This Disney project will boost economic growth both in Shanghai and eastern China," said Min Fan, chief executive of Ctrip.com, a Shanghai-based online travel company that makes about 10 percent of China's air ticket bookings.
The loss-making Hong Kong park announced on Thursday it would complete the first phase of its expansion by 2013 -- a year early -- as it seeks to increase its popularity.
The Hong Kong park said "Toy Story Land", based on the animated film, would open later this year while two other attractions would open in 2012 and 2013.
Shanghai's Disneyland is expected to attract 7.3 million visitors in its first year, according to a report on the city government's website.
Initially, it will feature Disney's famed "Magic Kingdom", with the possible addition later of an "Animal Kingdom" and "Epcot" area. The Epcot centre is a showcase of world culture and technology at the Disney World Resort in Florida.
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