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Disney to Open Theme Park in Israel?

A Disney-affiliated investment firm has just signed on to help build an amusement park/mall/multiplex project in Israel. Will Mickey Mouse be going Middle Eastern this time around?

Disney Hebrew

Mickey Mouse may be going Middle
Eastern: A Disney-affiliated investment firm has signed on to help
develop a 20-acre entertainment complex in Haifa, Israel. Plans for the entertainment complex include a small amusement park, a
multiplex theater, and a shopping mall.

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Shamrock
Holdings
, founded by Disney family maverick Roy E. Disney as his family
investment firm and still
maintaining intimate ties
with the Walt Disney Company, is
a partner in the Haifa project
. The other party Shamrock is
working with is New
Lineo Cinemas Israel
. New Lineo operates two large
multiplex/shopping mall complexes in suburban Tel Aviv.

A spokesperson for Walt Disney Parks
and Resorts tells Fast Company that Disney has no plans to build a park in Haifa, Israel.
However, local politicians, New Lineo and the Israeli press
all confirm that the project is going ahead.

At a
press conference Monday, New Lineo Deputy CEO Avi Edery said:
“The project, which is still in its development stages, reflects
our goal of providing quality entertainment for the people of
Israel.”

In an
official statement, Haifa mayor Yona Yahav noted that, “This plan
expresses confidence in our plans to turn Haifa Bay into a thriving
business area. The plan began with the municipality’s assistance in
the building of Cinemall and the upgrade of the mall, previously
known as the Lev Hamifratz Mall, and the building of the transport
hub for the cable car, which carries passengers up to the Technion
and Haifa University.”

Shamrock already
has extensive holdings in Israel
, including some which have
landed the firm in political controversy. Shamrock acquired
25% of New Lineo
in 2009; the movie theatre company is also
reportedly trying to open similar shopping mall/multiplex hybrids
in Europe.

That an amusement park is opening in
Haifa, partially funded by a Disney-affiliated investment firm is
beyond dispute. But the real question that amusement park geeks is
asking is whether Disney is involved.

Globes,
a reputable Israeli business daily, reports that the site
will include
a “Disney amusement park.” So does industry
newswire Amusement
Management
. The Chinese Xinhua news agency, which has
surprisingly extensive Israeli/Palestinian coverage, claims the
amusement park will
not be Disney-affiliated
, echoing the statement of the Walt
Disney Company.

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The
plot for the amusement park is small, at only 30,000 square meters.
This will be smaller than the attached 50,000 meter multiplex/mall.
But there are precedents of Disney opening micro-theme parks.

In
terms of size and location, the Israeli project seems like a larger
scale version of the DisneyQuest
Indoor Interactive Theme Park
in Florida. DisneyQuest is a
mega-arcade that contains a variety of proprietary immersive virtual
reality games and high-tech indoor rides. Disney also pioneered the
Club Disney
project in the 1990s which placed children’s entertainment centers
inside big box locations near suburban shopping malls.

The Disney
California Adventure Park
also operates on a small (55-acre)
plot. Disney also has experience in building immersive shopping
center/mall hybrids, such as the phenomenally successful Downtown
Disney
projects.

However,
Disney has a mixed record of success in opening overseas theme parks.
While Disneyland Paris is the most visited amusement park in Europe,
the
park’s financial troubles have been legendary
. Hong Kong
Disneyland has been facing
similar financial issues
as well. Disney is currently involved in
building Disneyland
Shanghai
and previous plans
to open a Disney park in Dubai
never got past the planning
stages. The only overseas Disney theme park to enjoy financial comfort is their Japanese project.

While
Israel has indigenous theme parks of its own such as the comically
quaint Mini
Israel
, low air fares mean that Israeli travelers can easily
visit European megaparks such as Disneyland Paris. Tense relations
between Israel and its neighbors also mean that a large-scale theme
park would not have a regional audience to draw on. Israel’s population is less than that of Los Angeles County; even with the country’s massive tourism trade, there are simply not enough numbers to support a local megapark.

But
whether or not the finished project will have mouse ears, it seems
that the late Roy Disney’s private investment firm thinks Israel
amusement parks will make them some shekels.

Follow Neal Ungerleider, the author
of this story, on Twitter.

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