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Hong Kong lawmakers warned of HK$31.6 billion loss if they fail to endorse Disneyland revamp funding

Commerce minister Greg So sounds warning as Finance Committee fails to vote on HK$5.45 billion request to fund city’s share of development cost

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 April, 2017, 6:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 8:30pm

The government has warned that Hong Kong risks a massive loss of economic benefits if lawmakers fail to pass a HK$5.45 billion funding application for a revamp of the Disneyland theme park.

In a desperate attempt to press for Finance Committee endorsement, commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung told lawmakers on Saturday that a risk test showed Hong Kong could lose up to HK$31.6 billion in economic benefits over 40 years if Disneyland’s visitor numbers shrank by 15 per cent.

Lawmakers were unable to vote on the funding request at the end of a seven-hour debate, which included two failed motions seeking adjournment of the proceedings.

There were also several scuffles between pan-democratic lawmakers and committee chairman Chan Kin-por.

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In one case, Chan had to adjourn the meeting briefly because Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung rushed to the chairman’s seat, protesting against his rejection of Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s call for additional terms to be added to the funding application.

The Finance Committee will continue its discussions on the coming Friday.

While the government – Disneyland’s biggest shareholder – played up the economic and social benefits that would derive from the expansion, lawmakers across the political spectrum urged it to postpone the request until it secured better terms.

“I have more faith in Carrie Lam [Cheng Yuet-ngor]’s administration than this one,” pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said, adding that the chief executive-elect’s tough style would help secure more concessions from the Walt Disney Company – the theme park’s American parent company.

The partnership between the Hong Kong government and the US firm has long been criticised as an “unequal deal” which sees the media giant receive millions in royalties and management fees even in the park’s loss-making years.

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“We have talked to Disney many times. The current terms are the best we can get,” So insisted.

Last month the company agreed to inject an extra HK$350 million for the revamp and waive part of its management fees for two years. But critics said the concessions were not significant enough to benefit the city.

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Lawmakers also questioned if the theme park was financially viable given that it was still losing money despite good attendance figures, and why a third-party investor had never been introduced to the venture in the past decade.

The controversial HK$10.9 billion expansion project, due to open next year, will feature thematic zones based on the blockbuster Frozen and Marvel superhero films, as well as the transformation of the Sleeping Beauty Castle.