Finance chief claims progress in talks on Disneyland revamp

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am

High-level talks between the Hong Kong government and representatives of the Walt Disney management yesterday resulted in 'substantial progress' on the theme park, according to the finance chief.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, on a visit to the United States, met Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in Los Angeles.

After the talks, Mr Tsang said: 'I am happy to note that substantial progress has been made in the negotiations. While a number of issues remain to be sorted out, both sides are committed to bringing the discussions to a successful conclusion in the near future.'

The breakthrough on the Hong Kong theme park follows months of uncertainty regarding its expansion.

While sources had revealed that negotiations had begun, 30 Disney employees who were responsible for master planning, designing and developing theme parks lost their jobs last month.

Talks over a Shanghai Disney were also reported as being close to completion earlier this year.

Before the trip, a government source was uncertain as to whether a breakthrough would be achieved. Yesterday, no further details were forthcoming from the Los Angeles talks although a spokesman for the financial secretary said: 'We had very good discussions today.'

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan said details on the expansion of Disneyland would be announced soon after Mr Tsang returned on Thursday. 'The Hong Kong government has kept negotiating with Disneyland in the past few months on the expansion of Disneyland,' she said, noting that major breakthroughs had been made in the talks. 'We want to find out the way to increase the attractiveness of the park and we have reached a consensus on the expansion.'

Last month, informed sources said new 'lands' and rides had been agreed on, including rides based on wilderness and adventure themes. A roller coaster would pass through mine shafts, tunnels and a wilderness area complete with audio effects and animatronic (robotic) animals.

However, how construction of the rides would be financed, by whom, and whether it would be necessary to restructure the current shareholding had yet to be resolved. The Hong Kong government owns 57 per cent of the theme park, while Disney holds the remaining shares.

While in Los Angeles, Mr Tsang also met prominent businessmen to exchange views on the current global financial crisis and spoke of Hong Kong's role as an international financial centre.