HK lawmakers discuss Disney expansion plan

HONG KONG: Hong Kong lawmakers said Saturday they would be unwilling to approve a plan to expand the city's Disneyland unless the government and Walt Disney Co. tell them how the theme park has performed since it opened in 2005.

Walt Disney and Hong Kong last week agreed to expand their joint venture, Hong Kong Disneyland, at a cost of 3.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($450 million), in hopes of boosting the park's fortunes. Hong Kong lawmakers must approve the expansion before construction can begin.

The Burbank, California-based entertainment giant will put up all the new capital to cover the construction and operation costs during the building phases. Hong Kong will not inject any new money but will convert a large portion of the loan it provided to Disney for the construction of the original park, to buy more shares in the venture.

Nevertheless, the territory's total stake is expected to be diluted by the new expansion capital injected by Disney, from about 57 percent to 52 percent.

Scrutinizing the deal Saturday, lawmakers said the Hong Kong executive has not disclosed the park's attendance figures or told them how well it has performed in the more than three years since it opened. They said they needed to see more details of the expansion before they could vote Friday to approve or reject the plan.

"We have to decide whether to approve the commitment of this large sum as equity for the expansion of the park, but we have been given very little information. This is really depressing," said pro-government lawmaker Starry Lee.

Another lawmaker asked whether the government had thought about pulling out of the joint venture altogether.

"Has the government ever considered selling all its shares to Walt Disney?" asked opposition lawmaker Fred Li. "We'll forget about the money we've already lost. We can't put any more money into this bottomless pit."

Rita Lau, Hong Kong's commerce and economic development secretary, said it would be difficult to find investors to buy the government's share in the joint venture because of the park's "poor operating conditions." She did not elaborate.

The proposed expansion would add three new theme areas and 30 new attractions, enlarging the park by nearly a quarter over the next five years.

Hong Kong is also under pressure to increase the theme park's appeal to compete with a proposed Disneyland in Shanghai, which could open in the coming years, and would siphon off Chinese tourists.