Viacom Breaks Ground on First Nickelodeon Resort in China

Foshan Nickelodeon theme park - H 2016
Courtesy of Viacom International Media Networks

A $1.71 billion theme park in the country's south will allow Chinese families to interact "with iconic and beloved characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

China's booming theme parks sector has another big contender under construction.

Viacom broke ground Wednesday on the Nickelodeon Cultural Resort in the southern city of Foshan.

The Nickelodeon theme park is part of a broader development scheme called the Foshan Cultural and Ecological Coastal Project. The $1.71 billion (11.9 billion RMB) development covers an area of about 750 acres, with 250 set acres set aside for Nickelodeon-themed attractions. It is expected to open in 2020.

Viacom International Media Networks has yet to announce what attractions will be included within the park, but Ron Johnson, executive vp Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products, said it will give Chinese families the "opportunity to interact with iconic and beloved characters including SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Viacom's partners in the project are Hong Kong conglomerate Elite Global Group and the Sanshui New Town Management Committee, a government-backed entity charged with developing the Sanshui district of Foshan.

Fueled by a growing and increasingly entertainment-focused middle class, China's theme park industry is on track to surpass that of the U.S. within the next few years. By 2020, ticket sales at Chinese parks will surge to $12 billion from $4.6 billion in 2015, according to a report released in November by market research firms Euromonitor International and World Travel Market. Theme park revenue in the U.S., meanwhile, is expected to inch upward to $9 billion in 2020 from $8 billion in 2015.

Major international park brands have been hurrying to enter the market, while local real estate giant Dalian Wanda Group plans to roll out 15 mega-resorts across China by 2020.

In September, Universal Studios signed a deal with a Chinese consortium to build a multibillion-dollar theme park in Beijing, to open in 2019. Later this year, Dreamworks Animation and Chinese partners are expected to complete a $2.4 billion entertainment complex in Shanghai, featuring bars, restaurants and performance venues.

Disney's $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai opened last June and the company says it will come close to breaking even by the end of its first full year of operation. Shanghai Disneyland broke ground on a Toy Story-themed expansion in October, just four months after opening.

Viacom last year opened the first Nickelodeon-themed attraction in Asia, Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon in Malaysia.