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Universal Studios to Build $3.1 Billion Korean Park

Universal Studios and its partners will build a 2.9 trillion won (US$3.1 billion) theme park in South Korea by 2012, its largest project in terms of investment size, as it seeks to expand in Asia's burgeoning entertainment market.

The theme park, spanning 4.7 million square metres (50.59 million sq ft) and featuring hotels, golf courses and rides based on popular movies and TV shows, would be similar in scale to the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida in the United States.

"This is certainly going to be much larger than the other projects that have been announced," Frank Stanek, who spearheaded the development of Tokyo Disneyland and is in charge of developing Universal Studios Korea, told a news conference. "We have a lot more strength behind this project, a lot more experience."

The park, in Hwaseong City in Gyeonggi province, about 30 km (18.5 miles) southwest of the capital Seoul, is expected to draw 10 million people annually from South Korea, China and Southeast Asia, said Kim Moon-soo, governor of Gyeonggi province.

Universal opened its first Asian park in Japan's Osaka in 2001 as it sought to tap Asia's theme park industry, which accounts for nearly half of the global $23.5 billion market but is largely controlled by local companies,

It is also developing two other parks Singapore's Sentosa Island and the Gulf emirate of Dubai.

South Korea, whose homegrown theme parks have generated $1.2 billion in annual ticket sales according to Euromonitor, has also attracted interest from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with both announcing plans this year to build resort parks.

Universal Studios is hoping to replicate the success of Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983 and now welcomes almost 26 million visitors a year, but it will have to compete with local theme parks Everland and Lotte World in South Korea.

More than 8.2 million people, or one out of every six South Koreans, visited Everland in 2006, making the park owned by Samsung Group the third busiest in Asia, after Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan.

Universal Studios, operated by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, is joining forces with POSCO Engineering and Construction, a unit of South Korean steel giant POSCO, and state-run Korea Development Bank, among other partners. GE is the parent company of CNBC.com.

Shinhan Bank, a unit of Shinhan Financial Group, and Korea Investment & Securities, a unit of Korea Investment Holdings are also part of the consortium.