China crimps U’s plan for Shanghai attraction

Local media reports authorities did not give project greenlight

SHANGHAI — Universal Studios’ plans to complete its Shanghai-based theme park by 2006 were struck a blow this week when authorities ordered suspension of work on the project.

The park, dubbed Universal Studios Shanghai, is a joint venture among U Studios and local companies Shanghai Waigaoqiao Group and Jinjiang Group. The three signed a contract more than 18 months ago, but have not received permission to proceed from the Beijing authorities, local media reported Friday.

An official in Shanghai explained that work on the theme park was postponed after a team sent by the central authorities reviewed local development plans.

Shanghai is undergoing what is being dubbed an austerity drive in an attempt to cool the economy’s breakneck growth. Other construction projects also have been delayed, including the Shanghai World Financial Center, billed as Asia’s tallest building, and a tunnel project linking nearby Chongming Island to Shanghai.

Shanghai has, for the last two years, been redefining itself as the sports and entertainment capital of China, hosting a Masters tennis championship and constructing its own Formula One racetrack, scheduled to hold its first F1 Grand Prix in September.

U’s theme park seemed to be the perfect answer to Disney’s latest park project, due to open in Hong Kong in 2005.

U has reportedly acknowledged the delays and announced it has laid off two dozen staff originally hired to work on the project. There is no indication when work will resume.

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