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Shanghai Disneyland delayed to first half of 2016

02/05/2015| 10:15:21 AM| 中文

Walt Disney Co. ’s $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai, previously set to open by the end of this year, will instead open in the first half of 2016.

Walt Disney Co. ’s $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai, previously set to open by the end of this year, will instead open in the first half of 2016, people close to the project said, marking the latest bump in a very long road for the media giant.

Disney has been planning the park, a joint venture with entities owned by Shanghai’s government, for more than a decade, and first envisioned opening it in 2008. The park also will be a key legacy of Chief Executive Robert Iger , who plans to retire in June of 2018.

The only thing potentially riskier for the project than a delay might be a flawed, premature opening. Though Disney hadn’t announced a specific opening date for its sixth park, Mr. Iger said as recently as last April that it would be in 2015. Shanghai’s mayor said last week that basic construction should be completed this year.

Mr. Iger is expected to update shareholders on the Shanghai park launch plans during the company’s earnings call Tuesday.

To maximize the theme park’s impact, Disney is more likely to open it in the spring than during the winter months, or close to China’s Lunar New Year holiday in early February.

Government-owned Shanghai Shendi, a consortium of property, tourism and media companies run by Shanghai’s government, holds 57% of Shanghai Disney Resort, and Disney owns 43%. The companies’ investments are proportional to their ownership stakes.

The precise reasons for the delay aren’t clear.

The park is being constructed in partnership with Shanghai Shendi, meaning Disney doesn’t have total control. Last April Mr. Iger announced that the two companies were expanding their ambitions for the park and investing an additional $800 million in its construction. “It is a huge vote of confidence not just in the market, but in this project,” he said at the time.

Last week, Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong appeared to cast doubt on a year-end opening of the park during a news conference that was dominated by questions about the city’s response to a deadly New Year’s Eve stampede along its touristy Bund riverfront.

The tragedy, which left 36 dead, has prompted authorities to scale back events they expect to draw large crowds. Mr. Yang said basic construction of Shanghai Disneyland would be completed this year but added that in setting a new opening date the partners “still need to do more preparatory works,” according to a transcript,

Mr. Yang said managing the flow of people is an important issue following the riverfront stampede. “While we believe Walt Disney is very experienced handling that kind of issue, we should also do our part to make full preparations in accordance with local conditions” he said, noting that the decision also will involve government considerations., noting that the decision also will involve government considerations

Disney has been planning to build a park in Shanghai since the 1990s and has dealt with many setbacks since then. In 2002, it signed a letter of intent with the local government that envisioned a theme park opening in 2008. Construction finally began in April of 2011, with a groundbreaking ceremony.

Under terms of their deal, Disney’s local partners are responsible for construction of the project and accompanying infrastructure according to exacting parameters hashed out over years of talks. The government says this year it will complete a subway extension to reach the area of the planned resort, near Shanghai’s international airport.

About 8,000 people are involved in the construction of the park, which will have Disney’s largest princess castle, a section based on the hit “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, which were themselves based on Disney theme-park rides in the U.S., a hotel with a “Toy Story” theme and a garden that will contain massive murals depicting the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac using newly created Disney characters.

The new target for the park’s opening will be close to Mr. Iger’s previously planned retirement date. In October, Disney extended Mr. Iger’s contract by two years.

Explaining his decision to stay, Mr. Iger said at the time, “I got excited about some really big initiatives that I’ve been very involved with and wanted to be a part of, not just when they opened, but as they unfolded in full.” He was referring to the Shanghai park’s opening and the company’s first “Star Wars” movie, which will debut in December. 

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TAGS: Shanghai Disney | opening | theme park
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