“Since we announced this project and put shovels in the ground, we’ve seen tremendous development in China” said Bob Iger today of the Shanghai Disney Resort. Citing “more interest in the Disney brand in China” and surges in internal tourism, the CEO today announced a big further investment in the resort at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. “We’ve decided we’d accelerate the expansion,” Iger said as he announced Disney is putting another $800 million into the project. Set to open in late 2015, that now makes Shanghai Disney Resort a $5.5 billion investment. “This is a big step and a huge vote of confidence in the project,” Iger told the standing room only ballroom which included former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the front row.
Disney owns 43% of the still under construction resort with local partner Shanghai Shendi Group having the other 57%.The new investment announced today is coming proportionately from both parties based on their percentage of ownership. Under development since 2005, the estimated 963-acre facility will feature a theme park, a 46,000-square-meter retail area, dining and entertainment, two hotels, a lake, recreational facilities, transit hubs and parking.
Iger was joined on the China In Transition: Still A Land Of Opportunity? panel by former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as well as Full Sky Capital co-founder Sheryl WuDunn. Early in the panel, the generally pessimistic Sec. Paulson praised Iger and Disney’s efforts in the Middle Kingdom.
“It is a land of great opportunity and great challenges,” the Disney boss said of China. “You have to be patient and tenacious,” Iger said of what is obviously a major part of his legacy at the company. “Over time, the government ha become more of a willing partner,” Iger said, mentioning the expansion of high-speed rail that will make the resort accessible to over 300 million people. “They’ve been good partners all along,” he added careful of how his words will be read by the powers-that-be in China.
“We face a lot of restrictions as a company but less so because of the type of content we make,” Iger noted of the recent halting by watchdog the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the streaming of various American shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and NCIS. “What we’ve continued to do is push for market access hard but we also agree we re better off partnering with local companies,” he noted. “Are we better off in a world with a stable China?” Iger asked the crowd of too much change too fast in the world’s most populous nation. “I’m not being an apologist,” he added.