NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The Walt Disney Co. and the Hong Kong government announced that they have agreed to build a multibillion-dollar theme park in the territory.
The venture, which will include two themed areas and a resort complex, is scheduled for completion by 2005. The park is the second Disney theme site in Asia, after Tokyo; with EuroDisney in Paris, it's the third outside the United States.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, flanked by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, announced the deal at a press conference Tuesday morning in Government House, the former mansion of British colonial governors in Hong Kong.
"This will mark a new era for Hong Kong," Tung said
The deal has been expected for some time, and details about the theme-park project have been leaked to media outlets in recent days.
Tung said the government would invest a total of HK$22.45 billion (US$2.9 billion) in the project, including a HK$3.25 billion investment in equity for 57 percent of the Disney theme park.
Disney will initially invest $320 million, according to a Disney vice president, Steve Tight.
Critics have wondered if Hong Kong might be making too many concessions in order to lure Disney, but Tung promised a big boost to the economy.
Tight, meanwhile, said it was not fair to compare the monetary value of the investments in the new park because Disney is bringing its famous characters and world-beating theme park experience to the table. `We're bringing the best of the best," Tight said.
The park will be a mix of East and West, centered around a traditional Magic Kingdom castle and featuring performances in Cantonese, the local Chinese dialect; Mandarin, which is most commonly spoken in mainland China; and English.
But the formula will be similar to those used in Disney parks elsewhere.
"It turns out to be a very strong and attractive investment both for Hong Kong and Disney, and we are very excited about being able to take it forward," Tight said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press "It provides us with a fantastic Disney anchor here in Hong Kong."
The park would create 6,000 jobs during construction, 18,000 jobs at the opening and 35,000 jobs over a 20-year period, Tung said.
A further 10,000 jobs are expected to be created by land reclamation projects and other associated works being funded by the government.
Media analyst David Londoner said Monday that the deal was "very important on a long-term basis" because it finally gives Disney a presence in the huge Chinese market.
But Londoner added that it may take a decade for that advantage to show in the company's earnings.
The widely anticipated deal has already lifted investor sentiment in the territory. Politicians argue it will help boost the battered economy, which is still struggling to escape a 15-month recession, by providing jobs and then pulling in more tourists.
But critics claim the Disney effect is exaggerated -- pointing out that once the park is built, most of the jobs will require few skills and pay low wages. There is also concern that the government, in its eagerness to get Disney onboard, gave too much away in negotiations.
Hong Kong beat off intense competition from China's largest city, Shanghai, and Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The park will be sited on the outlying island of Lantau, a short drive from the territory's brand new Hong Kong International airport, which opened last year.
-- from staff and wire reports