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The dead end for dream factory theme parks

Jan 09,2016
Is Korea a burial ground for movie studio theme parks? Every attempt to attract amusement parks by major U.S. film studios has failed in the past decade.

A huge plot of land in Songdo, Incheon, has remained idle for the last seven years. In the midst of tall weeds is a worn down sign that reads in Korean, “Paramount movie park Korea construction site.” In 2008, the site was chosen to be home to a Paramount theme park. The park was supposed to turn the area into a global tourist attraction by offering Asia’s first destination linked to Paramount, a studio famous for blockbuster films like the Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible franchises.

The project never went through because the Korean company driving it, Daewoo Motor Sales, was financially strapped due to the global financial meltdown in late 2008.

“This used to be a neighborhood that couples frequently visited but it has been empty for a long time,” said a 58-year-old realtor. “The damage caused by the cancellation of the project on the region’s commercial businesses has been huge.”

Since 2007, plans for four U.S. movie theme parks were announced but none were ever built. Analysts say the 2008 financial crisis was one cause, followed by friction between the studios and Korean project-operators.

The situation was similar when the South Gyeongsang government tried building a global theme park in the Busan-Jinhae Free Economic Zone.

The local government and Fox Studios signed a memorandum of understanding in 2014, but the project never materialized.

The most recent setback came in January, when Universal Studios, which operates theme parks in Los Angeles; Orlando, Florida; Osaka, Japan; and even in Singapore denied any knowledge of a Korean Universal Studios going up in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, which had been proudly announced by the state-run resource company K-Water.

The state-run company quickly admitted it was hasty in its announcement. However, K-Water said it has been in contact with Universal’s headquarters in Los Angeles since last year.

When the JoongAng Ilbo emailed Universal asking for clarification, Universal on Jan. 1 replied that it was looking into the feasibility of a project in Korea but had no involvement in the project announced by K-Water last year.

Some industry insiders say Universal is aware that other Korean cities are competing to attract the American movie theme park. It is also planning a Universal Studios in Beijing that is slated to open in 2019. The agreement on building the Beijing theme park became official last September.

“The project hasn’t been scrapped entirely, but the U.S. headquarters strongly protested because of outside factors,” said an official of a consortium selected as a primary bidder by K-Water to handle the project.

But analysts point out that theme parks are very expensive projects.


BY KIM MIN-SANG, WE SUNG-WOOK [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]


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