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Leo pounces on Asia park

Construction expected to start next year

The Lion is set to take an Asian tiger for a ride as MGM will build its first overseas theme park in the port city of Busan, South Korea.

A memo of understanding was signed Wednesday in Seoul by MGM officials, Busan city authorities and South Korea-based entertainment agency Glovit, with construction expected to start next year.

Detailed plans for the $1.02 billion MGM Studio City are still being drawn up, but the park will include 27 attractions, shopping facilities, restaurants, hotels and a film academy with movie sets.

Skedded to open in 2011, it will be built on 245 acres of land provided by the city of Busan as part of a larger planned tourist district.

MGM will be responsible for overall planning and content via a licensing deal, with Glovit raising financing and overseeing the park’s management.

MGM is not making an investment in the park but does have the option to purchase a 5%-10% share.

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Glovit is reportedly seeking additional investors and sponsors for the park.

Besides land, city officials will provide tax breaks and upgrades to infrastructure.

MGM Studio City will be the first Hollywood-style theme park in South Korea, a country of 47 million that’s also a popular low-cost destination for Japanese tourists.

The Walt Disney Co. has reportedly been in talks with the Seoul city government to build one of its theme parks there.

The MGM park’s main regional competitors will be Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, as well as two popular parks in the Seoul area.

Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik said he thought the park could attract as many as 5 million people a year. Estimate may be a bit optimistic, as recently opened Hong Kong Disneyland is expected to draw 5.6 million visitors in its first year. Hong Kong’s population is nearly twice as large as Busan’s 3.7 million.

The largest non-Disney theme park in Asia, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka has reported several years of losses since opening in 2001. It draws some 8 million visitors a year.

Tokyo Disneyland attracts about 25 million visitors a year.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)

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