China Approves $3.25 Billion Universal Theme Park in Beijing

Universal Studios Japan 2 H 2014

The facility will cover a 300-acre site in the suburbs of China's capital

The Chinese government on Monday formally approved a $3.25 billion Universal Studios movie theme park, Universal Beijing, to be built in the suburbs of the capital in tandem with state investors.

The overall investment in the theme park will be more than ¥20 billion yuan ($3.26 billion) after initial expectations of $2 billion. It will be built on a 300-acre site initially, before adding additional phases to expand to a 1,000-acre park over time, the company said at a launch ceremony in Beijing. There had been widespread local media speculation about the theme park, which will be the biggest park Universal has ever done. Local media has reported that it will open in 2019.

Universal joins Walt Disney and DreamWorks Animation in building vast entertainment parks in the Chinese mainland to tap the country's expanding middle class and burgeoning love affair with movies. The theme park will incorporate strong Chinese elements and pay "proper homage to culture in China," said Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts.

The theme park will be accompanied by a Universal CityWalk entertainment complex, featuring multiple retail, dining and entertainment facilities, and it will include the first-ever Universal-themed resort hotel.

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The theme park will be jointly owned by Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment (BSH Investment), a consortium of four state-owned companies and Universal Parks & Resorts, a unit of Comcast NBCUniversal.

"Of all the theme parks in the world, Universal Studio is outstanding, and we have all appreciated its high standards. It is a theme park based on modern movie culture, and has a great reputation around the world," Duan Qiang, chairman of Beijing Tourism Group and BSH Investment, said at the launch event.

Duan said the consortium had pursued the project since 2001.

"Beijing is an ancient cultural city with several great cultural heritage relics," said Duan. "What Beijing lacks is a large-scale entertainment project based on modern technology and modern art. After 13 years of preparation, we are excited that we finally reached a deal." 

Universal Beijing will be the company’s third facility in Asia after Singapore and Osaka. Universal also has theme park locations in Orlando, Fla., and Hollywood.

"Thirteen years have witnessed a great improvement of people’s life in China," said Duan. "Annually there are 250 million people traveling to Beijing. This huge market gives us confidence in the project. We celebrate it." 

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Williams said Universal Beijing would create a higher level of economic growth, understanding and cultural exchange between the U.S. and China.

"Together, we will create a unique experience that spotlights hugely popular Western entertainment concepts as well as China’s rich cultural legacy," said Williams. "This will be an opportunity to build relationships with the Chinese people on a direct and personal level.”

Asked about Beijing's notorious pollution problem and what impact that might have, Williams said that he saw opportunities.

"Of course, there will be a lot to learn," he said. "But I really believe it will be a very harmonious relationship, and we will overcome and reform. I'm very confident we will succeed again." Williams related how Los Angeles had also suffered from smog, and a clean-up had worked there, and he was confident Beijing would also solve its pollution problem.

Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park on the Chinese mainland, is scheduled to open in the city's Pudong district at the end of next year, while in March, DreamWorks Animation and its Chinese partners unveiled designs for a $2.4 billion entertainment complex, also in Shanghai.

And domestic players are busy too. In August, Wanda Group, China’s biggest real estate company and the world’s largest cinema chain, said it was planning to build 200 children’s theme parks by 2020.

The Universal Beijing theme park and support facilities will occupy a site located east of the capital in Tongzhou district, with more details to be announced at a later date.