Dalian Wanda Group, the property, entertainment and finance conglomerate controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin, confirmed on Friday that it will co-invest with France’s Auchan Group in the 3.1 billion euro ($3.4 billion) Europa City leisure and retail project being developed outside of Paris.
In an announcement on its website, Wanda said that Europa City will be the single largest investment in Europe, and that its own role in the project would be the largest investment by a Chinese company in France to date. No specifics have been released regarding the exact value of Wanda’s commitment to Europa City.
The agreement to invest in the 80 hectare destination is Wanda’s third multi-billion dollar investment so far this year, as China’s richest man works to transform his Chinese commercial property empire into a conglomerate profiting from entertainment, ecommerce, finance and healthcare on a global scale.
Wanda Loves Leisure
The Europa City project, which will incorporate retail shopping centres, hotels, restaurants, and an indoor ski resort, fits with Wanda’s current target of growing an entertainment empire that it hopes will outdo Disney.
“For us, it is the most important project outside of China,” Wang Jianlin said in a statement issued by the company.
In China, Wanda is already developing a chain of amusement parks themed around Chinese traditional culture and local attractions. In 2014 Wang vowed that his theme park in Wuxi, Jiangsu province would attract more people and bring in more revenue than Disney’s $5.5 billion resort in Shanghai, which is set to debut this year.
In France, Auchan representatives have previously stated that Europa City, which is located 16 kilometres from Paris near Charles de Gaulle airport, will attract 31 million visitors per year when it opens – more than Paris Disneyland currently attracts.
Construction on Europa City, which was designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’ BIG design group, is set to start in 2019 and projected to finish in 2024.
Following the signing of the agreement Auchan representatives voiced high hopes for their cooperation with Wang and Wanda. “Dalian Wanda’s know-how in terms of entertainment and Wang Jianlin’s ambition to develop his Group on a global scale have convinced us that Wanda could make a substantial contribution to the development of EuropaCity,” said Vianney Mulliez, President of Auchan’s Immochan real estate subsidiary.
Pushing the Wanda Deal Machine into Hyperdrive
While details of Wanda’s investment in the French destination remain sketchy, this latest deal demonstrates Wang’s determination to build Wanda into one of the world’s largest companies, even more quickly than he built it into China’s largest commercial property developer.
At the beginning of this year Wanda announced a $2.3 billion joint venture with a British firm to establish private hospitals in China, and later in January unveiled the $3.5 billion acquisition of US movie producer Legendary Entertainment.
However, while Wang, whose fortune is now estimated by Forbes to have reached $30 billion, has stated his goal of turning Wanda into a $200 billion company, some observers note that Wanda appears to be selling shares and assets nearly as quickly as it acquires them.
Already this week Wanda was reported to be offering a stake in its Wanda Pictures subsidiary, which includes the recently acquired Legendary and a home-grown domestic movie production firm that Wanda has assembled in recent months, to investors in China for $1.5 billion. If Wanda can pull off this rapid ramp up of its movie production assets it would value the recently formed company at $5.3 billion.
Wang also last year declared Wanda’s objective of achieving IPOs for the company’s finance and ecommerce divisions, which it has been assembling through acquisitions over the last 18 months.
Earlier this month, however, Moody’s Investors Service revised the credit outlook for Wanda’s listed commercial property division — its primary business — from stable to negative.
In a report to investors Moody’s noted that, “DWCP has lowered its contracted sales target for 2016 to RMB100 billion, a 39% decline from contracted sales of RMB164 billion in 2015.” DWCP is the abbreviation for Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties. Moody’s also said that it expects Wanda will continue to fund its growing investment in retail properties despite a reduction in cash flow from lower contracted sales.