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MCA in talks to become Euro Disney neighbor

With a London site out of the running, MCA Inc. hopes to sign a deal this year with the French government to build its multibillion-dollar Universal Studios Europe on the outskirts of Paris.

The park would be based on the company’s Hollywood and Florida attractions and is targeted to be built at Melun Senart, about a 30-minute drive southeast of Paris, not far from Euro Disneyland, which is about 19 miles east of Paris.

“We’re moving along fairly well,” Frank Stanek, president of MCA Enterprises Intl., said of negotiations with French authorities. “I’m looking forward to concluding something this year.”

MCA has been negotiating with the French since the late 1980s while also weighing a British bid for a Rainham Marshes site east of London.

“The British project became unfeasible,” Stanek said. “The British government wasn’t able to do enough fiscally to make the project interesting. The French are very well organized in that field and are very good at supporting projects which involve new towns like Melun Senart.”

MCA is believed to have chosen a 1,300-acre site and is looking to the French for a package with tax breaks, improvements to road and rail services and the use of a government-based, low-interest borrowing structure.

If the French authorities give the go-ahead, MCA hopes Universal Studios Europe could be operating by late 1996 — at about the same time the Disney/MGM Studios attraction opens at Euro Disney.

The first phase of the project, thought to require investment of at least 10. 5 billion francs ($ 1.8 billion), will include a major film and TVproduction facility with about 135,000 square feet of soundstages and another 270,000 square feet of support space.

According to one MCA estimate, around 6.5 million visitors are projected to visit the site in the opening year, rising to 9.4 million by the 10th year.

An MCA internal document suggests revenues per visitor of about 336 francs ($ 60), while additional revenues generated from hotels and other services on the site are estimated by the company to be worth 400 million francs ($ 71 million) in the first year.

A new Universal Studios Europe facility could be a welcome relief to French filmmakers.

Last month it was announced that veteran Paris suburb Boulogne Studios is to be closed and the neighboring Billancourt Studio will be revamped.

Several directors have already complained that the largest sound stage at the Billancourt complex will be 1,000 square meters — not big enough, they contend.

Gallic helmers requiring larger facilities worry they’ll be forced to go to Babelsberg studio in Germany.

One question that intrigues observers is whether MCA plans an American-style studio at a time when Euro Disney appears to be suffering from European coolness toward American culture.

Ron Bension, head of MCA’s recreation services group, told the Wall Street Journal last month that the company would consider drawing heavily on French cinema if the park is built in France.

Euro Disney watchers point out, however, that the giant theme park has come close to its projected first-year target of 11 million visitors. The park’s main problems have not come from a rejection of American culture, they said, but from financial disappointments linked to high interest rates and an inability to develop real estate interests near the park because of the slump in the European market.

Stanek told Daily Variety he doesn’t foresee any major complication because of the change of government in France following last month’s general election. “The French negotiator who was dealing with the socialist administration is now briefing the new conservative ministers. MCA has also had contacts with people in the ministries, some of whom are even stronger in their support than their predecessors,” he said.

As for the possibility the Disney/MGM Studios and the Universal Studios Europe might be overkill for tourists, Stanek said, “We already have neighboring attractions in Orlando, and they work.

“Our choice of France was not because Euro Disney was there, but because of demographic, travel and transport considerations. As well as that, France is about the only country in Europe where people are still making films.”

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