Universal plans $3.1 bil park near Seoul

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SEOUL -- Universal Parks & Resorts on Tuesday unveiled plans for a $3.1 billion theme park just southwest of Seoul, its largest in Asia.

Universal Studios Korea Property Holdings -- a local consortium formed in May 2006 to develop a theme park -- the provincial government and six other partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the event detailing their plans for the resort.

The Korean theme park will consist of eight sections -- including a theme park, convention center, water park and golf courses -- and will open in spring 2012 in Hwaseong, a small seaside town less than an hour's drive for 24 million people living in and around Seoul.

The park also is the centerpiece of the government's plans to develop the region into a major tourism destination for Korean, Chinese and international travelers.

"Because of Korea's closeness to the Chinese market, we think it is a great chance to get first chance at all the new tourists coming out of China," USK president Frank Stane said. "Not only China, but all over Northeast and Southeast Asia."

In addition, Stanek said that the park will have significant localized content, though plans have not been finalized.

"We recognized the need to respect local content and intellectual property these days," Stanek said. "Not just films, but other Korean IP, too, are popular throughout Asia."

Universal will have plenty of competition, as MGM and Paramount have also announced plans to build theme parks in Korea, but Stanek emphasized the greater scope of Universal's park.

"We are much larger than the other projects," he said. "We also have lots of experience and strength, with a more deliberate approach. We think our resort is much more viable."

Universal also has resorts in Dubai and Singapore scheduled to open in 2010.

Universal has yet to sign onto the project directly, as it still needs to perform due diligence on the project, a process that will take until early 2008, but expressed optimism about the Korean park, according to Peter Wong, vp business development Asia for Universal Parks & Resorts.
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