Billionaire Wang Bets $15 Billion on Hunan’s Wanda City, Malls

  • Wanda chairman targets 15 Wanda City projects throughout China
  • Malls planned as commercial property unit seeks China listing

Dalian Wanda Group Co. is investing 100 billion yuan ($14.7 billion) to build a theme park complex and series of commercial centers in China’s central Hunan province, as its chairman Wang Jianlin targets to surpass Walt Disney Co. to build the world’s largest tourism company by 2020.

The Beijing-based conglomerate has signed an agreement with the local government to plow 50 billion yuan in a Wanda City project in Changsha, the provincial capital, with the remainder of the investment to build 15 Wanda Plaza malls in cities such as Yueyang and Changde, according to a statement posted on its website Friday.

Wanda plans to have 15 Wanda City projects in China by 2020, betting on strength in numbers to become the biggest Chinese theme parks operator amid rising competition from overseas investors such as Disney. The $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney, which opened in June, attracted four million visitors in its first four months and will be close to breaking even in its first full year of operations, the U.S. company said Thursday.

Wang, China’s second-richest person, earlier this year challenged Disney saying he would drive his theme parks rival out of China. The billionaire has since sought to mend ties, visiting the Shanghai resort last month and calling on Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger on a trip to the U.S.

The Changsha investment follows two Wanda City projects which opened earlier this year in Hefei and Nanchang, eastern cities that are within four-hour’s train ride from Shanghai. Wang also plans to open five of the resorts overseas.

Building more of the Wanda Plaza commercial complexes would add to the 133 that the company already owns in the country, boosting its property portfolio as Wang pursues a higher valuation for Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co.’s planned listing in mainland China. The unit withdrew from the Hong Kong exchange in September.

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