U sets China foray

Studio attraction highlights Beijing complex

Leisure-bereft Chinese are about to get their first taste of American-style recreational activities and the Hollywood Zeitgeist.

Universal Studios unveiled plans Wednesday to become the first Hollywood player to open a multifaceted attraction in China, announcing a strategic alliance with Henderson Investment Co. Latter is a major property developer on the mainland and a publicly traded company headquartered in Hong Kong.

The Universal Studios Experience will be located in the atrium of the new Beijing Henderson Center in central Beijing, a massive complex containing retail, office and apartment space.

Interactive area

Universal’s facility will include a wide range of family entertainment activities, including a high-tech educational and interactive sensory area for children and adults. It is understood that Universal’s presence in the complex will preclude other U.S. entertainment companies from taking space there.

The Universal Studios Experience is planned to open this summer.

The centerpiece of the complex will be a two-story Universal globe, anchoring a journey through the sights and sounds of the studio’s entertainment and cultural legacy. The space covered by the Experience is 20,000 square feet.

Other features will include a retail center modeled on the Universal Studios Stores; an education and entertainment walk-through called Hollywood Adventure; Club California, a refreshment area with a Southern California theme; and Star Maker, where guests will have the opportunity to create their own images through advanced still photography.

Just the ‘first step’

Brian McGrath, international president for the Universal Studios Recreation Group, told Daily Variety that the initiative in Beijing was simply “the first step” in what he called “a substantial commitment” to the Chinese market.

McGrath described the Experience as a sort of indoor Citywalk or walk-through ride that combines educational and entertainment aspects. Chinese visitors will get a taste of Universal’s film, music and TV heritage along with information and activities related to special effects, the making of movies and the history of the U.S. cinema. Dinosaurs, of the “Jurassic Park” variety, will be featured in the mix.

The facility will also include a number of elements of Chinese culture, McGrath stressed.

The company has earmarked “several million dollars” to get the facility up and running, McGrath said, adding that partner Henderson will share in both the costs and the eventual profits. He declined to say what the partnership split is.

There are a number of locally developed theme parks in China and a new aquarium in Beijing, but by and large the 1.25 billion Chinese are underserved when it comes to recreational activities.

“Our goal is to blend the best of both countries’ cultures and traditions by establishing a rich exchange of entertainment, education and information,” McGrath said.

Peter Lee, managing director, Henderson China, said in a statement: “The Henderson Center is pleased to serve as Universal’s gateway to China. With Universal’s unparalleled brand of entertainment expertise and Henderson’s strength in the market, we expect that this project will provide a model for other such developments across China.”

Japan park due in 2001

Universal Studios Recreation Group will open a theme park in Japan in 2001 and already operates domestic theme parks and location-based entertainment complexes at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida.

Both Warners and Disney already operate branded stores in China and elsewhere in Asia, but Universal’s latest initiative is the most ambitious leisure time foray by a Hollywood major so far in that territory.

Universal’s music group already has an office in Beijing and there is a separate Recreation Group office in Hong Kong. McGrath said further expansion of offices in the region is likely in the future.

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