Noble Coker traded in his mouse ears for a seat at Wang Jainlin’s Wanda, and now the amusement park expert is joining mainland developer Kaisa Group to help get its rollercoasters off the ground.
On April 21, Kaisa announced that Coker, the former vice president of operations for Hong Kong Disneyland, joined the Shenzhen-based firm as President of its Jinshawan International Park division, which is responsible for implementing the company’s plans for building mainland theme parks.
The hire of the twelve-year Disney veteran ratchets up the theme park program for the Hong Kong-listed firm, which is still best known for its infamous 2015 series of bond and loan defaults.
Now back from the brink, Kaisa is planning two major theme park projects, and has chosen the former Disney “Imagineer” to lead its attempt to help China have more fun while developers sell more homes.
Coker left his role as vice president for park operations at Disney in 2013 to become president and general manager of Dalian Wanda’s theme park management department. Kaisa’s theme park initiative follows a more than $47 billion amusement park program from mall developer and Hollywood hopeful Dalian Wanda, which is busy opening its own set of theme park-driven developments across China.
Kaisa Planning Parks in Shenzhen and Liaoning
At Kaisa Coker will be in charge of the company’s two major tourism real estate projects: the Golden Bay International Park and a long-planned, 1.27 million square metre fantasyland in Liaoning Province.
Kaisa announced late last year that they were planning to build a RMB30 billion ($4.4 billion) international theme park in eastern Shenzhen that it hoped to open in 2020. The developer expects its 1.5 million square metre Shenzhen fun city to host as many as 2.3 million visitors annually.
The park will make up the core of the project, which also includes coastal hotels and museums. Last year Kaisa signed cooperation agreements with Marriott, InterContinental, and Hyatt Hotels Group to co-build three five-star hotels and a premium luxury hotel on the site, with openings planned for the end of June this year according to sources at Guandian.cn.
Kaisa will be hoping that Coker can put his experience with Disney and Wanda towards helping the developer’s rides and resorts get liftoff. In May 2013, Coker left Wanda Group in June 2015 to become a full time father.
The last few years have been a bit of a rollercoaster for the come-lately theme-park developer. At the start of 2015 Kaisa defaulted on a $500 million offshore bond, triggering an industry-wide crisis that dragged on for months. In May of 2016 bondholders approved Kaisa’s offshore debt restructuring plan and the firm has recently worked out a settlement with its bondholders that allow shares in its stock to once again trade on the Hong Kong exchange.
A Tentative Toe in Liaoning Province
In addition to the Golden Bay project, Coker will be taking the reins of the Liaoning Huludao Suizhong Kaisa Dongdaihe project in Liaoning Province, with a total site area of about 1.27 million square meters, and a gross floor area of about 1.97 million square meters. The project has been in the works since Kaisa won it in August 2010.
Kaisa’s plan at the time included an overall investment of RMB 50 billion into the Dongdaihe project over 6 to 8 years. According to Guandian.cn’s source, the project will have its first five-star hotel up and running in the second half of this year.
Wading into Theme Parks with Wanda’s Theme Park Point Man
When Kaisa finally gets its feet wet in the flume ride game, it’ll find that there’s quite a line. Between August and November of 2016, Coker’s former employer Dalian Wanda spent $47 billion on theme parks; the comically large mouse gloves came off when Wang Jianlin said he wanted to out-build Disney.
Regardless, China could be experiencing a theme park glut. The Shenzhen Golden Bay International Park from Kaisa has a lot of competition in the Pearl River Delta and across South China, including Shenzhen Happy Valley, Window of the World, Paramount Parks, and Guangzhou Wanda Cultural Tourism City.
A research report cited by Guandian.cn, China Theme Park Development Report 2016, concluded that China had more than 2,700 theme parks of various types, but only 10 percent of them were turning a profit.