China's Wanda Plans Theme Park to Compete With Shanghai Disneyland

5:35 AM PST 09/25/2013 by Patrick Brzeski
Getty
Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin

Days after announcing the world's largest movie studio development, company chairman Wang Jianlin touts another project, saying it "will surpass Disney in both revenue and number of visitors."

Chinese real estate and entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group has been capturing headlines worldwide since it announced plans last Sunday to build an $8.2 billion film studio complex in the coastal city of Qingdao -- with Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, and Harvey Weinstein in attendance at the glitzy event to show support.

Now, just days after that high-profile unveiling, the company’s billionaire chairman, Wang Jianlin, has touted ambitions for yet another multibillion-dollar entertainment complex -- this one positioned to directly compete with the upcoming Shanghai Disneyland amusement park.

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On Tuesday, at an event in Nanjing, Wang signed a deal with the city of Wuxi, just west of Shanghai, to build a $5.9 billion “cultural tourism city,” the Wuxi Daily reports.

The project, dubbed Wuxi Wanda City, will span 296 acres around a small lake. It will include an outdoor amusement park, a “film city” with 3D cinemas, an indoor children’s theme park, an “extreme sports hall,” seven resort hotels, a commercial center with over 200 retail shops, and a “bar street” of at least 20 venues.

“Wuxi Wanda City will have richer content than Disney,” Wang was quoted as saying. "[We] expect to attract 20 million tourists a year. Wanda has confidence that [our tourism project] will surpass Disney in both revenue and number of visitors.”

Shanghai Disney -- over 15 years in the making -- broke ground in 2011 and is expected to open at the end of 2015. The project is slated to include two hotels, 495,000 square feet of retail space, a dining and entertainment venue, a lake and other facilities and amenities. Disney CEO Robert Iger said at the Goldman Sachs conference in New York this week that Shanghai Disney is the area of the company’s business he is most excited about.

Wanda says Wuxi Wanda City will be up and running by 2016. 

STORY: China's Dalian Wanda Group Gives $20 Million to Academy Museum

Wanda officials couldn't be reached for further comment at press time. 

The Wuxi development is part of Wanda Group’s ongoing transition from commercial real estate to investments in the “culture industry,” the development of which is a key priority of the Chinese government as it seeks to steer its economy toward domestic consumption and boost its soft power and cultural influence abroad.

Across the country, Wanda owns and operates 72 commercial plazas, 38 five-star hotels, more than 6,000 cinema screens, 62 department stores and 68 karaoke outlets. 

The Wuxi mega-development is just one of 10 planned cultural tourism projects -- what the company calls "Wanda Cities" -- that Wanda intends to roll out across China. Haerbin, Nanchang, Hefei and Qingdao already have their own Wanda Cities in the works. Wanda has said other such developments will be coming to the more mature real estate markets of Beijing, Guangzhou and Dalian, where it is based. Apart from entertainment and shopping outlets, the developments will also reflect some of the local culture of the regions, the company says. 

Wanda's moves in the entertainment sector steadily have been gaining pace since it announced its culture industry ambitions early last year. The company bought AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest cinema chain, for $2.6 billion in 2012 (Wanda is now the world’s biggest movie exhibitor by screens). Wang has said in interviews that he is interested in acquiring a European theater circuit as well. 

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In an effort to forge greater ties with Hollywood, Wanda last week donated $20 million toward the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ upcoming museum in Los Angeles.

Wanda's film division, Wanda Media, also has been growing more active, making investments in Keanu Reeves' recent directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, Jackie Chan's upcoming Police Story 2013, and The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D with Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat.

But with its Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis complex, announced Sunday, Wanda threw down a gauntlet of sorts. The $8.2 billion facility will include a 10,000-square-meter film studio and 19 smaller movie production buildings, along with a theme park similar to the Universal Studios franchise. The complex will also have a permanent auto show, a yacht center, an international hospital, hotels and bars. Wang says he has signed agreements with Hollywood film studios and talent agencies to have about 30 foreign movies produced there each year -- with 100 more local films to be made annually.

"My target is for Wanda to be one of the world's biggest companies in the culture industry; this is why I haven't retired yet," the 59-year-old executive, whose net worth is estimated at $16 billion, said at the Qingdao event Sunday. 

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