MCA Theme Park May Be Rising In The East

One of the first offspring of the Matsushita/MCA marriage may be a new theme park in Japan.

Speaking at a press conference at the company’s Universal Studios Florida May 2, MCA president Sid Sheinberg said MCA may accelerate plans to build a theme park in Japan. Sheinberg said the company, which Matsushita Electric Industrial Group acquired at the beginning of the year, has formed a planning group to select a site for a Japanese version of the $600 million Orlando theme park.

“Japan is on the front burner for us,” said Sheinberg. “[Matsushita officials] visited Orlando and were very impressed with what we have here…They have indicated interest and support” for MCA’s longterm plans for a Japanese project.

Sheinberg quickly added that a final decision would depend upon finding the right location at the right price.

Prior to its acquisition by Matsushita, MCA had been exploring the possibility of building a studio tour/theme park in Japan with Nippon Steel. But that potential relationship ended when Matsushita bought MCA.

According to Frank P. Stanek, executive vice-president of MCA Enterprises Intl., the company is already well acquainted with potential sites for a park from three years of study with Nippon Steel. However, no timetable has been set yet.

Universal Studios Florida is a joint venture between MCA and Britain’s Rank Organisation. Stanek said it is not yet clear if MCA would build a Japanese park with a joint-venture partner, “but it is possible we may.”

In addition to Japan, MCA has targeted Europe as another site for a Universal Studios Tour. The company has been mulling two sites – one in suburban London, another near Paris.

In both cases, Stanek said MCA is looking at 1995 and 1996 as the earliest possible dates for potential openings.

MCA’s international parks will place it in direct competition with its arch-rival, the Walt Disney Co., in both Europe and Asia. Disney will open its Euro Disneyland theme park outside Paris in 1992, with plans for a second gate, fashioned after Orlando’s Disney-MGM Studios, set for 1994.

Disney has operated Tokyo Disneyland with a Japanese owner since 1983, and it has proved to be a runaway hit among the Japanese. There is a site available near Tokyo Disneyland for another attraction, although the company has not outlined its plans.

Because the U.S. theme park business is mature, international markets offer the best hope for future growth, according to industry analysts. Japan, with its population of 120 million crammed into a land mass the size of California, is “a major growth market for any quality leisure attraction,” said John Robinett, principal with industry consultants Economics Research Associates in Los Angeles.

In Japan, where land is scarce and expensive, the only large tracts of land available for such developments are underutilized industrial lands owned by major Japanese corporations, such as Matsushita, and landfill projects, said Robinett.

MCA officials were in Orlando May 2 for the opening of “Back To The Future – The Ride,” a new $40 million attraction.

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