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Billionaire Wang to build 3.3b euros French theme park
[BEIJING] A partnership led by by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda Group Co plans to invest more than $3 billion euros (S$4.65 billion) in a retail and leisure development project outside of Paris, taking on Walt Disney Co in the euro area's second-largest economy.
EuropaCity will be built 10 kilometers northeast of Paris. It will be the biggest single investment project in Europe to date, including a theme park, show stage, hotel, retail stores and conference centers, the company said in a statement.
The project, which spans more than 80 hectares (198 acres), will also provide about 20,000 jobs during construction and 14,000 after it opens, according to the statement.
For Wanda, which runs theme parks across China, movie theater chains in the US and a soccer club in Spain, the move represents a renewed overseas push, underscoring Wang's increasingly global ambitions.
The conglomerate agreed in January to buy "Godzilla" producer Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion, paving the way for the tycoon to become the first Chinese person to control a Hollywood film company.
France-based shopping center developer Immochan is overseeing the project. Immochan is an arm of Groupe Auchan, a family-owned supermarket operator.
Mr Wang is also interested in potentially buying Amaury Sport Organisation, a company that runs cycling's Tour de France race, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Mr Wang, who vies with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd founder Jack Ma for the title of China's richest person, has set his sights on beating Disney in the theme park business.
In January, he told executives that visitor arrivals and revenue at Wanda's tourism projects in Wuxi and Guangzhou will beat those of Disneyland in Shanghai and Hong Kong, respectively, according to a transcript of the speech posted on the company's website.
Europacity may add to challenges facing Disneyland Paris, which needed a bailout in 2014 to upgrade its facilities and reverse a slump in attendance.
Already this year, Wanda announced a US$2.3 billion investment in three hospitals, the formation of a financial group and the signing a US$10 billion development deal in India, in addition to the Legendary acquisition. Wanda has said it's planning five major acquisitions in 2016 - three of them overseas.
Mr Wang's investments in Europe include the Club Atletico de Madrid soccer team and Swiss marketing firm Infront Sports & Media AG.
Wanda is seeking acquisitions to bolster growth as the group braces for falling sales from its main property business. That's prompted Mr Wang, estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to have a fortune exceeding US$26 billion, to increasingly look toward expanding his entertainment business.
Mr Wang's film, tourism and sports operations all fall under Wanda's fast-growing Cultural Industry Group, which saw revenue climb 46 per cent last year and is forecast to climb 30 per cent in 2016.
By comparison, Wanda Group estimates overall sales rose 19 per cent in 2015 and will probably decline 12 per cent this year because of the slump in its property business.