China tycoon to invest $4.6b in Paris theme park

Mr Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda Group is looking at expanding its entertainment business. Just last month, the conglomerate agreed to buy Godzilla producer Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion.
Mr Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda Group is looking at expanding its entertainment business. Just last month, the conglomerate agreed to buy Godzilla producer Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Wanda Group takes on Walt Disney in euro area's 2nd-largest economy

PARIS • A partnership led by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda Group plans to invest more than €3 billion (S$4.6 billion) in a retail and leisure development project outside of Paris, taking on Walt Disney Co in the euro area's second-largest economy.

EuropaCity will be built 10km north-east of Paris.

It will be the biggest single investment project in Europe to date, including a theme park, show stage, hotel, retail stores and conference centres, the company said.

The project, which spans more than 80ha, will also provide about 20,000 jobs during construction and 14,000 after it opens.

For Wanda, which runs theme parks across China, movie theatre chains in the United States and a soccer club in Spain, the move represents a renewed overseas push, underscoring Mr Wang's increasingly global ambitions.

The conglomerate agreed last month to buy Godzilla producer Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion), paving the way for the tycoon to become the first Chinese person to control a Hollywood film company.

France-based shopping centre developer Immochan - an arm of Groupe Auchan, a family-owned supermarket operator - is overseeing the project.

Mr Wang is also interested in potentially buying Amaury Sport Organisation, a company that runs cycling's Tour de France race, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr Wang, who vies with Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma for the title of China's richest person, has set his sights on beating Disney in the theme park business.

He said visitor arrivals and revenue at Wanda's tourism projects in Wuxi and Guangzhou will beat those of Disneyland in Shanghai and Hong Kong respectively, according to a transcript of his speech last month on the company's website.

EuropaCity may add to challenges facing Disneyland Paris, which needed a bailout in 2014 to upgrade its facilities and reverse a slump in attendance.

This year, Wanda has already announced a US$2.3 billion investment in three hospitals, the formation of a financial group and the signing of a US$10 billion development deal in India, in addition to the Legendary acquisition.

Wanda is seeking acquisitions to bolster growth as the group braces itself for falling sales from its main property business.

That has prompted Mr Wang, estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to have a fortune exceeding US$26 billion, to increasingly look towards expanding his entertainment business.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'China tycoon to invest $4.6b in Paris theme park'. Print Edition | Subscribe