Universal Studios to build major theme park in S.Korea

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US film giant Universal Studios Tuesday signed a deal with South Korean partners to build its largest theme park in Asia at a cost of around three trillion won (2.

67 billion dollars).

Universal Parks and Resorts and 14 South Korean partners, including Lotte Group and a subsidiary of steel giant POSCO, signed the framework agreement to develop the park at Hwaseong by 2014.

The initial deal was announced in late 2007 but faced problems raising capital until retail and hotels group Lotte was persuaded to join the project.

Universal Studios also operates theme parks in Hollywood, Orlando in Florida and Japan, and a park on Singapore's Sentosa Island is nearing completion.

When completed, the South Korean resort 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Seoul will be larger in area than all four combined and will create more than 40,000 jobs, according to Kim Moon-Soo, governor of Gyeonggi province.

Lotte Asset Development will have a 26.7 percent stake, while POSCO's construction subsidiary POSCO E and C is the second largest shareholder with 24.4 percent.

Work is due to start in March next year on the venue, which will include a water park, theme hotel, apartments, a golf course and other facilities.

Culture minister Yu In-Chon called it "a major opportunity to develop the national tourism industry".

Universal Parks and Resorts chairman and CEO Thomas Williams said he was very optimistic the resort would attract "a substantial segment" of the South Korean population as well as a growing number of Asian international tourists.

He said director Steven Spielberg, a creative consultant to Universal Parks and Resorts, is expected to take part in the Korea project.

"He already has a number of ideas that I think will contribute to making it quite unique and, in the spirit of differentiation, something that caters to an international crowd," Williams said.

Universal Parks and Resorts will lend operational experience and its brand name to the South Korean developers, officials from the province and the culture ministry said.

Williams said his company was investing in the project but declined to give a figure.

"We believe in the South Korean tourism business and we believe the Universal Studios Korea project will play a leading role in the growth and development of the Korean tourism industry," Williams said.

"The number of Asian tourists has been significantly growing," he said.

Provincial governor Kim said South Korea would become the fifth of the G20 nations to have a global theme park, following Tuesday's agreement.

The park will "become the focal point of the west coast economic tourism belt by successfully attracting tourists from China and other nations", Kim predicted.