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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disney Starts Hong Kong Project

HONG KONG -- At a groundbreaking ceremony for Hong Kong Disneyland, top executives of Walt Disney Co. said they were confident the first Disney theme park on Chinese soil will draw millions of visitors a year despite the global economic downturn.

"The world economy may be going through a relatively challenging time, but the prospects for this park and the prospects for the economy are looking very strong," said Robert Iger, Disney's chief operating officer.

Hong Kong's political leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, and Disney's chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, were among those who attended Sunday's ceremony, which featured a traditional Chinese lion dance and classic Disney characters.

"This historic day brings with it the dawn of a new era in tourism for Hong Kong and also marks a symbolic milestone in the partnership between Disney and China," Eisner said.

Hong Kong's post office issued Sunday a set of four special stamps printed with colorful Disney landmarks, including Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland.

Disney expects the 126-hectare park -- its fifth in the world -- to draw initially at least 5.6 million visitors a year, one-third of them from the Chinese mainland. That figure is expected to rise to 10 million a year ultimately, said Irene Chan, a Disney spokeswoman.

Hong Kong Disneyland, designed to resemble the park in Anaheim, California, is set to open by 2006. The project will include two hotels, shops and restaurants and will be connected to downtown Hong Kong and the nearby airport by rail and highway.

The Burbank, California-based entertainment giant sees Hong Kong as a good place to establish a foothold in China, which recently signed a preliminary agreement with Disney rival Universal Studios to build a theme park in Shanghai.

Universal's park is also due to open in 2006, while Disney said in December it would not build a park on the mainland until at least 2010.

The Hong Kong Disney park is being built on reclaimed land at Penny's Bay on Hong Kong's outlying Lantau island. Hundreds of old bombs and artillery shells dumped offshore by the British military decades ago were found at the site in recent months.

Hong Kong and Disney officials said the removal of the ordnance would not cause a delay in the park's construction.

Hong Kong's government sees Disneyland as a boost to tourism and employment. The jobless rate hit a record 7.8 percent in the May-July quarter as the territory's economy showed little sign of rebounding from a long slump.

The government is spending 3.25 billion Hong Kong dollars ($416 million) for a 57 percent stake in the park and the equivalent of $2.8 billion for related items including infrastructure projects. Walt Disney is paying 2.45 billion Hong Kong dollars for the remaining 43 percent stake.

Not everybody believes the park will be a boom for Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Chan has called the project a "commercially bad" deal, and other critics have voiced fears that Hong Kong Disneyland stands to lose much of its business from mainland visitors if Disney builds a second park in China.