China’s Richest Man Said to Plan Retail Project in France

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Wang Jianlin

Dalian Wanda Group Co. Chairman Wang Jianlin speaks during the Hong Kong Asian Financial Forum (AFF) in Hong Kong, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

  • Chinese conglomerate having busy year in terms of deals
  • Chairman Wang flagged `major deal' to be announced Friday

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co. is planning to invest billions of euros in a retail and leisure development outside of Paris, according to two people familiar with the matter.

An announcement may come as soon as Friday, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is confidential. Wang said at the University of Oxford on Tuesday that Wanda would announce a "major deal" this week, though he didn’t provide details. The project, known as EuropaCity, will be built in Gonesse, a town 16 kilometers northeast of Paris, between Le Bourget and Charles de Gaulle airports, according to a website for the property.

For Wanda, which runs theme parks across China, movie theater chains in the U.S. and a soccer club in Spain, the move represents a renewed overseas push, underscoring Wang’s increasingly global ambitions. The conglomerate agreed in January to buy "Godzilla"-producer Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion, paving the way for the tycoon to become the first Chinese person to control a Hollywood film company.

Auchan Project

Construction on EuropaCity is slated to begin in 2019, with the project opening in 2024, according to the website. The development, being built by property company Immochan, will include a theme park, shopping center, water and snow parks, sports fields, performance spaces and hotels, according to the site. Immochan is the development arm of Groupe Auchan, a family-owned supermarket operator. A spokesman for Immochan declined to comment.

With theme parks, Wang has set his sights on beating Walt Disney Co. In January, he told executives that visitor arrivals and revenue at Wanda’s tourism projects in Wuxi and Guangzhou will beat those of Disneyland in Shanghai and Hong Kong, respectively, according to a transcript of the speech posted on the company’s website.

The move may also add to challenges facing the Disneyland Paris amusement park, which needed a bailout in 2014 to upgrade its facilities and reverse a slump in attendance.

Wang, who vies with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma as China’s richest man, has had a busy year. Besides the Legendary deal, Wanda announced a $2.3 billion investment in three hospitals, the formation of a financial group and the signing a $10 billion development deal in India. In addition, Wanda has said it’s planning five major acquisitions in 2016 -- three of them overseas.

European Investments

Separately, the group’s Wanda Cinema Line Co. theater-chain unit was halted from trading in Shenzhen on Wednesday pending the announcement of an acquisition and the Wall Street Journal reported that the group is seeking to raise $1.5 billion from domestic Chinese investors for its closely held film-making Wanda Pictures subsidiary.

While Wang’s investments in Europe include the Club Atletico de Madrid soccer team and Swiss marketing firm Infront Sports & Media AG, Wanda’s culture-and-entertainment business has a relatively smaller presence in the region than in China.

Wanda is seeking to acquisitions to bolster growth as the group braces for falling sales from its main property business. That’s prompted Wang, estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to have a fortune of $27.2 billion, to increasingly look toward expanding his entertainment business.

Wang’s film, tourism and sports operations all fall under Wanda’s fast-growing Cultural Industry Group, which saw revenue climb 46 percent last year and is forecast to climb 30 percent in 2016. By comparison, Wanda Group estimates overall sales rose 19 percent in 2015 and will probably decline 12 percent this year because of the slump in its property business.

— With assistance by Geraldine Amiel, and Dingmin Zhang

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