Hongkongers will have to pay HK$5.45 billion for major expansion of Disneyland
Approval of government’s controversial funding application comes despite demands by lawmakers for a fairer deal with Walt Disney Company
Taxpayers will have to foot a HK$5.45 billion bill for a major expansion of Hong Kong’s loss-making Disneyland theme park, after the government – the biggest shareholder – was unable to negotiate a better deal under a “take it or leave it” ultimatum.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum had been demanding a fairer deal, complaining that the city’s contribution to finance half of Disneyland’s six-year facelift should be subject to better shareholding, financing and management arrangements with the entertainment giant, but on Tuesday the Legislative Council’s finance committee approved the funding by 30 to 24 votes.
Despite filibustering efforts by opposition pan-democrats, the committee’s pro-establishment majority succeeded in getting the government’s funding application passed, ending five months of bickering and lobbying.
“I am delighted that the finance committee approved the expansion plan,” commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung said. “We have gone through a lot of analysis. We have also pushed very hard in the negotiation. We believe that this package is really the best package that we can achieve.”
After sticking to its guns throughout, Disney issued a statement saying it was “grateful” to secure Legco support.
The HK$10.9 billion expansion project, half of which will be covered by Disney itself, is due to start next year and will feature themed zones based on the blockbuster, Frozen, and Marvel superhero films, as well as a transformation of the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The partnership between Disney and the Hong Kong government has long been seen as unequal as the entertainment giant receives millions of dollars in royalties and management fees even as the park keeps losing money.
Before the final vote, pro-establishment lawmakers rejected more than 40 motions by their pan-democratic colleagues, including requests to disclose more of the theme park’s financial figures, give more discounts to Hongkongers, as well as review further economic benefits to Hong Kong.
“We are very disappointed. I am sure it won’t be the last time that Disneyland asks for money from Legco,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said, accusing those who approved the funding of ignoring public concerns.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing welcomed the funding boost, but urged the government to proceed carefully. “I think the government can certainly feel the pressure from the public ... I hope it will not waste public money,” he said.
Yiu said Hong Kong Disneyland’s expanded attractions had to be very unique, compared with its Shanghai counterpart, to be able to fend off stiff regional competition. Shanghai Disneyland, which opened last June, is three times bigger.
The government estimates the expansion, together with the completion of the mega-bridge linking Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai, will help attract up to 9.3 million visitors a year by 2025 – up from 6.1 million in 2016 – and create 5,000 to 8,000 jobs across the tourism industry.