Property conglomerate Wanda Group has announced the signing of an agreement with the municipal government of Yan’an, in the remote reaches of Shaanxi province, to build a Communist Party theme park in the city recognised as the birthplace of China’s communist revolution.
Wanda, which is led by tycoon and former PLA officer Wang Jianlin, said it would invest RMB 12 billion ($1.74 billion) in the project, in Shaanxi Province, while its culture and tourism subsidiary will inject another RMB 4 billion.
The tourism city, which is the latest in a string of amusement-driven developments by Wanda, will comprise communist-themed tourism facilities, theatres and hotels, and will include some “patriotic education” elements, Wanda said.
Wang said groundbreaking on the project would begin in 2019, with a completion date planned for sometime in 2021 — the 100th anniversary of China’s Communist Party.
Building the Revolutionary Brand
Wang, whose father was part of Mao’s People’s Liberation Army during the Long March which took the revolutionary group to Yan’an during the 1930s said during a signing ceremony that Wanda “will carry forward the Yan’an spirit with a high sense of historical mission and social responsibility, and make Yan’an Wanda City a new national red tourism brand.”
The tourism city will be located in the Gaoxin development zone of Yan’an city, which lies north of the provincial capital, Xi’an.
The 1,266,666 square metre project will be divided into four thematic districts, including “Revolutionary Culture,” “Military Entertainment,” and “Traditional Intangible Cultural Heritage.” The architecture and style of the theme park will attempt to replicate the environment of Yan’an during the years from 1935 to 1948, when the Chinese Communist Party was based in the city.
Wanda has been criticized by the government for carrying a multi-billion-dollar debt load, and Wang had promised in January that the group would cut its debt “through all available means” by disposing of non-core assets.
Out With the Old Tourism Investments, In With the New
Wang offloaded most of Wanda’s hotel and tourism portfolio last year, and in October it agreed to hand over the management company responsible for controlling its 13 existing tourism cities, as well as its Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis — a film studio that Wang had planned as the Hollywood of Asia — to China Sunac Holdings for RMB 6.28 billion.
However, the disposal of the 13 tourism cities and hotel portfolio doesn’t mean Wang has given up on the tourism business: the Yan’an development is the second theme park Wanda has announced plans for in just over a month, following its Lanzhou theme park plan in November.
For these new project by a slimmed-down Wanda, the group is reportedly pursuing an “asset light” development-as-service model, which involves a third-party investor for financial support and gets Wanda away from its heavily scrutinized model of financing its projects via bank loans and other debt financing.
The Lanzhou theme park, in the capital of northwest China’s Gansu province, also apparently has a financial backer, but Wanda has not specified who that might be.