30 jobs go as Disney halts HK expansion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am

The Walt Disney Company has halted all creative and design work on the expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, cutting more than 30 jobs.

The company acted after being told by the government that there was no timetable on the way forward, the US entertainment giant said yesterday.

Contracts with several architectural and consulting firms would also be suspended as a result, sources said. It is understood that Disney will have to compensate the firms involved.

Yesterday's job cuts reduced the size of Walt Disney Imagineering's Hong Kong-based team to a skeleton crew of about 10 staff. Those laid off included two Americans and three or four Britons, while the rest were local employees, the sources said. Their salaries were paid by Disney, based in Burbank, California. Imagineers are mainly responsible for master planning, developing, designing and engineering the company's theme parks.

The redundancies come a month after Disney said an undisclosed number of its US jobs would be shed as part of a corporate overhaul and to trim its overheads amid the economic downturn and poor consumer spending.

'After two years of Disney investment in creative and design work and extensive negotiations with our partner, the Hong Kong government, we have not yet reached a final agreement to expand Hong Kong Disneyland,' Walt Disney parks and resorts spokesman Leslie Goodman said.

'The uncertainty of the outcome requires us to immediately suspend all creative and design work on the project.'

Despite earlier hopes of a breakthrough in the negotiations with the government this year, the sources said senior management at Disney did not see any progress being made in the next six months.

A spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said Disney had earlier informed the government of its layoff plans.

'We consider that The Walt Disney Company's laying off of Walt Disney Imagineers who have been working on the design of Hong Kong Disneyland's expansion will not be conducive to the discussions, and are puzzled by the company's decision,' the spokesman said.

'We have expressed grave concern about the decision and urged the company to reconsider.'

Disney has already expressed its willingness to foot the bill to expand the theme park, but negotiations have dragged on for about two years. The government and Disney hoped to reach an agreement as soon as possible with both Hong Kong's and the theme park's interests in mind, the spokesman said.

One of the sacked workers, who declined to be identified, said: 'From Disney's point of view, they thought this would certainly be resolved within a year. But there is a feeling of an unending cycle of reviews.'

The sources said Hong Kong Disneyland's planned expansion by 2012 or 2013 would require pre-foundation work, such as the laying of water pipes, to begin now.

The site allocated for expansion is located behind Adventureland, and about the same size as the attraction, which is home to the Jungle River cruise.

Growing nowhere

Sources say Disney was told on Friday there was no expansion timetable

The stake held by the Hong Kong government in the park is: 57%