The Wanda Group has just opened Harbin Wanda City featuring the world’s largest indoor snow park as part of a wider RMB 20 billion ($2.95bn) “cultural tourism” project in the Chinese city famed for its annual ice festival.
Harbin Wanda City was officially launched on June 30 by Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin and local politicians including the Mayor of Harbin, Song Xibin. It is believed to be the most expensive tourism development ever in northeastern China. The sixth cultural tourism project from Wanda, it is its first in this particular region of the country. Located in Harbin Songbei New District, it covers an area of 80 hectares and has a floor area of 900,000 square metres.
As well as year-round snow and ice entertainment, Harbin Wanda City features the group’s third theme park, a movie park, grand theatre, high-end hotels and retail. Key components are as follows:
• Harbin Wanda Ski Park. As Harbin is also known for music as well as its winter ice sculpture festival, the outside of the park is shaped like a giant piano. Inside, up to 3,000 skiers at a time can experience six different slopes, ranging from 40m to 500m in length. A 15,000 sq m snow entertainment area is also available to keep families happy. International-standard skating rinks will allow sporting competitions when not in use by regular visitors.
• Wanda Theme Park. The park has been themed to celebrate the history and culture of Harbin as well as Russian and Oroqen culture (the city sits close to the Russian border). There are five themed zones: Harbin Avenue, Xing’an Snowfield, Fisher’s Song of Ussuri, Lilac Fairy World and Moment of Celebration. As well as rides and attractions, guests can expect European parades and Russian-style performances. In winter, the park is expected to host snow carnivals.
• Wanda Grand Theatre. This centrally-located 2,000-capacity arena will host world-class live performances including the show Magic Romance.
Winter sports popularity in China
Ski-ing is gaining popularity in China as the country prepares to host the 2022 winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou (near Beijing). Several ski resorts already exist in northeastern China, inclusing in Yabuli, about 180km from Harbin, and Wanda’s own resort at Changbaishan in the nearby Jilin province. The winter season in Harbin can last as long as six months, with the lowest temperature plummeting to -36°C. An indoor ski resort therefore makes sense. Yet Harbin Wanda City offers more than that.
“This is a brand new community that includes not only a theme park, but also a school, a hospital, housing and hotels,” notes ex-Hong Kong Disneyland boss Andrew Kam, now vice-president at Wanda Cultural Industry Group.
Wanda’s international shopping spree comes under scrutiny
The new resort in Harbin puts the spotlight back on Wanda’s domestic projects after an international “shopping spree” by Wang Jianlin. Acquisitions in recent years included a 2012 takeover of the AMC cinema chain, and a 2013 purchase of the yacht builder Sunseeker International. Last year Wanda acquired the Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion. However, Wang was forced to abandon a US$1 billion takeover earlier this year of Dick Clark Productions after failing to receive regulatory approvals.
His global asset buying has come under the scrutiny of Chinese regulators and policymakers in recent months, reports the South China Morning Post and Bloomberg. Amid concerns of putting pressure on over-leveraged banks, there has been a crackdown in capital outflows. Wanda was among several conglomerates named on June 22 in an investigation by the China Banking Regulatory Commission into the company’s overseas acquisitions. While no wrongdoing was indicated, the revelation sent the stock prices of Wanda-related companies falling, while the yield on its bonds shot up.
Wang Jianlin, whose wealth is estimated by Bloomberg at $30.6bn, did not address the regulatory scrutiny of Wanda’s finances at the opening of Harbin Wanda City. The company has rejected rumours of a bond sell-off by banks and hedge funds.