Guangzhou firm builds the Orlando of China

5 May 2011

By Staff Reporter

In early December, work began on a giant ocean theme park on the southern tip of Hengqin island next to Macao, which will have the worlds tallest Ferris wheel and is designed for 30 million visitors a year.

It was the start of the second largest project in Hengqin, with a total investment of 20 billion yuan, that aims to transform sand dunes and oyster farms into the Orlando of China. On five square kilometers, it is building Asias biggest holiday centre, with a convention centre, hotels, 18-hole golf course, yachting centre and entertainment. It will provide 20,000 jobs directly and 100,000 indirectly and aims to bring 50 billion yuan in income a year to the island.

On the east of Hengqin, builders are constructing the new site of the University of Macau; faculty and students will move in at the end of 2012.

These are two of the projects that are re-shaping one of the last undeveloped islands in the Pearl River delta and will turn it into a tourist, education and business haven by 2020, when its population will reach 280,000, up from 5,000 now.

The Orlando project represents a major gamble for Chimelong, the private company based in Guangzhou, which is building the resort. Founded in 1989, the company has invested in environmental tourism, hotels and holiday resorts, with its major project a safari park, circus and tourist centre in Panyu, a southern district of Guangzhou.

Orlando, in central Florida, is the model for the Hengqin development. The city has turned sugar cane fields and citrus plantations into one of the most visited cities in the United States. This is because of Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World, which is 34 kilometres to the south. In addition, it hosts the second largest convention complex in the country.

Chimelong wants to follow the example of Orlando. It has hired major U.S. design firms  PGAV and WATG  for two major parts of the project, the Ocean World and the Ocean Hotel. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, WATG has designed hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries across the world.

Last December (2010) marked the start of the first phase of the project, involving investment of 10 billion yuan, on a land area of 1.43 million square metres and a built-up area of 1.2 million. It will include the Ocean Theme Park, International Ocean World and the Chimelong Dolphin Hotel, with 1,888 rooms, the largest environmental hotel in China. It will take ideas from the Venetian hotels in Macao and Las Vegas, with rooms, restaurants and retail space built around water.

The first phase will also include a 210-metre-high ferris wheel, the tallest in the world, a two-kilometre cable car and a marine museum. This phase is due to open in 2012, with an annual design capacity of 30 million visitors. PGAB has overall design responsibility for this first phase. For the financing, Chimelong has borrowed five billion yuan from a consortium of seven banks led by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and, in addition, is using its own funds.

Before construction began, the builders had to remove 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of oyster farms and dump 850,000 cubic metres of earth into the sea to reclaim land.

When it is finally completed, the project will include eight theme parks, including animal kingdom, science world, world flower park, bird world, beach sand park. There will be an 18-hole golf course, yachting centre and other sports facilities, international ocean theatre and international convention centre.

Panyu safari park

This investment represents the second major project for Chimelong, after its amusement park in Panyu, for which it is known across China. It opened on April 12, 2006, with an investment of over one billion yuan, on an area of 67 hectares, including a safari park, a circus, crocodile park, golf centre, hotel and seafood restaurant, a total of 60 attractions. It can receive 50,000 visitors a day.

In 2009, the park attracted 10 million visitors, compared to the 5.03 million who went to Ocean Park in Hong Kong. It was the success of the Panyu park that enabled Chimelong to win the contract for Hengqin.

Ye Wenqing, deputy director of the Zhuhai Industrial Development Bureau of the Hengqin New Area Administration Committee (NAAC), said that the dolphins, sea lions and other animals had started to arrive from Russia, Japan, the United States and Australia and were learning to adapt to their new surroundings.

Initially, we expect the tourists to be mainly from the mainland. Then more and more will come from abroad, she said. This will help to diversify tourism in Macao. While the husband plays in the casino, his wife and children can come to the Ocean Kingdom.

Complement to Macao

The land area of Hengqin is three times that of Macao, one of the worlds most densely populated places with 540,000 people. The island is designed as a complement to Macao, offering housing, facilities and services for which it has no more space.

It was in August 2009 that the State Council approved the island as a special economic district, the third in China after Pudong in Shanghai and Binhai in Tianjin. Such a high-level decision was a sign of the importance the central government attaches to the island and its strategic role in the future of the Pearl River delta.

Beijing wants to take the opportunity to turn this virgin territory into something new  an island of trees, lakes and green space, of low-density and low-carbon development and the most comfortable living environment in the delta.

It will be a model environmental island, said Zhao Zhenwu, deputy director of the party-masses work division of the Hengqin New Area Administrative Committee (HNAAC). Of its 106 square kilometers, 78 will not be developed or have very limited development.

There will be no pollution and no air conditioning  the cooling will be provided by natural gas. It will provide an excellent living environment.

One of the key projects in Hengqin is the new campus of Macao University, a site of 1.09 square kilometers on the east coast facing Taipa. Under a bill passed by the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress in June 2009, the Macao SAR will have jurisdiction over the site. It will pay US$150 million to Zhuhai for a lease for 40 years; the construction cost is six billion patacas.

The architect is He Jingtang, vice chairman of the Architectural Society of China, who designed the China Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The new campus will have 10 residential colleges, each with a capacity of 500 students; it will have a total of 10,000 students, compared to 6,000 on the current crowded site in Taipa. It has 20 times the land area of the existing site.

He has designed a garden-style campus, with lakes, trees and covered walkways, combining the architectures and cultures of south China and southern Europe.

International residential area

Other tourist attractions on Hengqin will include a marine centre for yachts, two golf courses and medical tourism, including beauty and health treatment and possibly a hospital, and an artistic and exhibition centre with sculpture, calligraphy and teachers in residence.

Zhao said that the Pearl River could attract more tourists if it offered a variety of activities. In the future, we can offer one-two days in Hong Kong, one-two days in Macao and one-two in Hengqin. This will be more attractive to visitors and people will stay longer. We will complement Macao.

On the northern side of the island will be an international residential area, of homes in a green and low-density setting.

Zhao said that prices of homes in the area will be lower than those of Macao, which will attract some of its residents to move there. The environment will be more attractive, with sea and water, and there will be many opportunities for recreation. It will be convenient to Macao, with the border open 24 hours a day.

Preparing the way

The city government is spending 12.6 billion yuan to create the  infrastructure necessary to support a population that will reach 280,000 by the year 2020.

This includes a 52-kilometre road that will run the full circumference of the island and will be lined with trees and flowers. Ye said that it would be suitable for bicycle races or international marathons.

The infrastructure also includes two more bridges linking the island to the rest of Zhuhai, including one to the citys airport, two tunnels and one bridge to Macao and roads within the island. Residents of Macao with cars will be able to drive them to Hengqin.

Energy will be provided by wind power and natural gas brought in from the South China Sea. The China Power Investment Corporation is building a power generator project at a cost of 12 billion yuan.

Business district

In the northeast of the island will be the Shizimen Central Business District; ground was broken on the first phase of this project in July 2010.

It will involve investment of 100 billion yuan, of which 38 billion will come from the Huafa Group, Zhuhais biggest property company. It covers an area of 5.77 square kilometers and will take five years to build.

It will include two five-star hotels, to be managed by St Regis and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, and the Zhuhai International Convention centre, with facilities of 25,000 square metres and a capacity for 10,000 attendees. Next to it will be a 300-metre tower, the tallest building in Zhuhai and Macao, with high-grade office space and the St Regis Hotel.

The district is designed for banking and insurance, business services, trade and business, conventions and exhibitions. It will seek investors worldwide, with priority given to Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao companies. It will include the headquarters of China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC), which is building a factory in Zhuhai to make fixed-wing general aviation.

It will have a total of 11 million square metres of space, of which 45 per cent will be commercial offices and 55 per cent commercial apartments and other supporting services, said a spokeswoman for the district. She said that the capital would come from the government and Chinese and foreign companies. The central government has approved this project, so we need it, she said.

Industry

The master plan also includes a high-technology industry zone and a science and research zone in the northwest corner. Zhao said industries in Hengqin would be restricted to those that were non-polluting, such as high-tech electronics.

The government is setting aside 1.5 square kilometers for a traditional Chinese medicine park, for which Macao is providing the investment. It will be a platform for research, development and training and will invite outside investors.

The master plan calls for a population of 280,000 in 2020, up from 5,000 now and 120,000 in 2015 and for a per capita GDP of 200,000 yuan in 2020, up from 120,000 in 2015. By 2020, the green area will account for 50 per cent of the island, all the waste water will be treated and all the urban daily waste will be disposed of without pollution.

It is an ambitious plan  to create a green island in an area of high population and dense industry.

MACAUHUB FRENCH