The official opening of Hong Kong Disneyland today quite literally launches our 'Tomorrowland'. Whether people support the theme park or not, it is ours - an investment in our future made by the government with our tax money in a bid to help our city prosper, move forward and succeed in a competitive world. How we use what we have been given is up to us. We may patronise the tourist attraction frequently or never go near it; but one thing is certain - Disneyland is here to stay. Rarely has a project so singularly caught our attention. The $27 billion price tag has been scrutinised from every angle since being announced 61/2 years ago and even as the gates swing open, continues to be hotly debated. Our biggest infrastructure project to date, Hong Kong International Airport, was seen as less an investment than essential to ease the over-bearing congestion of the airport at Kai Tak. The teething problems encountered when it opened were far more serious than those so far experienced at Disneyland (although the biggest test for the theme park will come after the opening today.) Love or loathe Disneyland, no magic wand will now make it go away. The fairytale castle, amusement rides, hotels and restaurants are in place and, it is hoped, fine-tuned to begin generating income today. Disney has a big responsibility to ensure that the various problems which have emerged in the last week of preparations are dealt with - and that everything goes well on the day. Poor timing That is, after all, the bottom line of any investment - and this is among Hong Kong's biggest. What has made Disney so controversial is that the decision for its construction came at difficult time. After the uncertainty that accompanied the run-up to Hong Kong's return to China, the Asian economic crisis just months after the handover in 1997 came as a shock. Overnight, spectacular growth and prosperity began eroding. Profits turned into deficits, unemployment soared and property prices, the surest indicator of economic health, collapsed. Hong Kong had famously weathered such storms before. Through war, disease outbreaks and social and political instability, it had survived and reinvented itself, with impressive results. So in March 1999, when it was announced that the American cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, would be our saviour, public scepticism seemed to heavily outweigh enthusiasm. With Hong Kong newly reunited with China and still coming to terms with how it was now perceived internationally, turning to the American corporation Disney rather than to the mainland for help seemed, to some, to be a backward step. As details of the deal emerged, debate grew. For shouldering $23 billion, or about 82 per cent, of the cost of developing the Lantau Island site and building Disneyland, the government would get a 57 per cent stake and Disney the remainder. Given such favourable terms for Disney, government justification through arguing that the benefits far outstripped the costs only heightened the scepticism. Doubts have since been cast over forecasts of $148 billion in profit over the next 40 years, the creation of 36,000 jobs and projections of 3.6 million extra tourists in the first year of operation. There is also the concern that Disney will open other theme parks in Asia, particularly on the mainland. dogged by CONTROVERSy The controversies have not been limited to economic considerations. The loss of part of Lantau, our last great parkland reserve to development; environmental damage caused by land reclamation at Penny's Bay; destruction of archaeological treasures at the site; wild dogs; air pollution from fireworks; the presence of shark's fin on menus - later removed - and concerns about overcrowding, have all featured. And the controversy has continued throughout the preparations for the opening. The entertainment on offer today has certainly come at a cost. Some of the worries have been dealt with, but others will remain impediments to 'the magic kingdom' being embraced by all of Hong Kong. Nonetheless, as Vice-President Zeng Qinghong prepares to officiate at the opening ceremony and a capacity crowd celebrates, the benefits are already apparent. Most noticeable are the 5,000 new jobs created at the theme park. In coming months and years, the number will increase through expansion and as hotels come on stream to cater for the increased tourist arrivals. These may not be the highly paid jobs some would wish, but they are the beginning of careers for many young people and, at the least, reduce our unemployment. Nor should we be overly worried about the financial figures; Disneyland in Florida and Paris opened with as much controversy, yet have become overwhelmingly as successful as Disney's other resorts. If our reputation and ability to attract future investment is to be the cornerstone of our success, no harm can be done by being home to an iconic global brand. A great deal of taxpayer's money has been invested. Hong Kong is entitled to have high expectations - and to demand that all goes well. But quality of life is a priority. If Disneyland provides this through promoting family togetherness and fun, the benefits will far outstrip the costs.