Disney eying Shanghai park as HK opens

Walt Disney CEO-elect Bob Iger said Hong Kong Disneyland, which is planning its grand opening today, could be followed by another park in Shanghai as the Mouse continues its conquest of the Asian market.

Iger confirmed to reporters in Hong Kong longstanding rumors that the company has been talking to officials in Shanghai about a theme park that could open there after 2010. Shanghai is China’s largest city and its financial capital.

Iger, who formally takes the reins from CEO Michael Eisner on Oct. 1, said the Chinese are less familiar with Disney than consumers in other major markets and that the company is counting on the Hong Kong park, Disney’s 11th, to ignite interest in the region. Iger has stressed aggressive global expansion as one of his top priorities.

Walt Disney is also looking to launch a Disney Channel in China.

“This is the biggest venture that any, certainly any Western media company has ever embarked on in this region — not just in terms of the scope from a financial perspective, but the commitment it has taken, the detail, the planning, the technology and training,” Iger told the Associated Press in an interview at the Hong Kong park, while in the background a singer rehearsed songs from “Mulan” and workers nearby painted fences.

During the past week, Disneyland has given visitors a sneak peek of the park on Lantau Island, a stunning locale set against lush mountains. Park is a 30-minute subway ride from central Hong Kong.

Crowds who were allowed to try out the attractions during the “rehearsal days” have complained about long lines at the rides and restaurants. But Disney has said it won’t lower its maximum capacity of 30,000. Hong Kong officials had asked that the number be cut to 20,000.

“The park is definitely ready for its grand opening,” Iger said.

Disneyland is expected to draw about 3.6 million visitors within a year and up to 7.4 million annually after 15 years, the company has said. About 40% of the visitors are expected to come from mainland China, Disney has said.

The park is the fruit of a joint venture between Disney and the Hong Kong government that was signed in 1999. Hong Kong is paying the lion’s share — $2.1 billion, including costs for reclaiming land and supporting infrastructure. The government has also extended a $782 million loan.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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