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Oct 13, 2014 2:27 PM

SpiderMan may swing over Beijing in new theme park

The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) Spider-Man could soon swing over Beijing, chasing Optimus Prime and despicable minions through a $3.3 billion Universal theme park aimed at capitalizing on China's rising middle class and growing demand for all things animated.

China has been a major booster of animated movies such as "Transformers: Age of Extinction" which was partly filmed in China and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Brand is becoming more important to Chinese market as its middle class pours cash into entertainment, and malls and parks across China are installing animation and cartoon-themed attractions to woo visitors, says global architecture firm AECOM. The Chinese film industry is set to overtake the U.S. box office in the next three years, leading to more demand for Western entertainment, said Gary Goddard, founder of entertainment design firm Goddard Group in North Hollywood, California.

The rising middle and upper classes "all have money to spend and they want to spend time together with their families," he said.

The 1,000-acre Beijing park will include attractions from other Universal parks, rides that reflect China's cultural heritage, a Universal CityWalk entertainment zone and a Universal-themed resort hotel. It will be the third Universal park in Asia, joining others in Singapore and Osaka, Japan.

Comcast NBCUniversal is building the property with four Chinese state-owned partners. An opening date wasn't announced.

China is home to 11 of the top 20 amusement parks in Asia with about 166 million visits in 2013. Revenue is expected to total nearly $3 billion this year, estimates research firm IBISWorld. There are 59 more parks in the pipeline, and by 2020, theme park attendance in China could overtake the U.S. market's 220 million visits last year, according to AECOM. As U.S. and European amusement parks see flatter or declining attendance, theme park companies are betting on China to drive expansion.

Hong Kong Disneyland said in February that it was profitable for the second year in a row, partly due to new attractions that drew more visitors from the mainland. It plans to build a third hotel and new ride based on the "Iron Man" movie franchise which is wildly popular in mainland China. The Walt Disney Co.'s $5.5 billion Shanghai Disneyland resort is slated to open next year. It will take an "East-meets-West" approach with attractions like the Garden of the Twelve Friends with murals of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac depicted by popular Disney characters.

Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc. is building a $2.4 billion complex with Chinese partners in Shanghai, scheduled to open in 2017. It will feature a 500-seat IMAX cinema with international film festivals and red carpet events in mind, bars, restaurants and performance venues, the companies said. It will also showcase a "Dream Avenue" theater district modeled on London's West End and New York City's Broadway.

In June, Six Flags Entertainment Corp. announced plans to build six parks in China over the next decade.

Developers will increasingly use international brands in theme parks, AECOM analysts Chris Yoshii and Beth Chang said in a 2013 leisure report. "We're already seeing major (intellectual property) groups active in the market in Asia: Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Dreamworks all very much so," they wrote. Some of the new parks also are trying to promote Chinese culture, stories and themes.

"Unlike the U.S. where there was a push to create a standard, in Asia there's a lot of variety and experimentation," they added.


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