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Mickey and Friends to Open Near Paris in 1991 : France Wins Battle for Disneyland

December 19, 1985|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — France, a country filled with fans enamored of everything made by Hollywood in the early days, won agreement Wednesday to build Europe's first Disneyland amusement park in a new town just outside Paris by 1991.

The agreement with Walt Disney Productions, after two years of intense competition, was regarded here as so important that Premier Laurent Fabius signed it on behalf of the French government.

The signing of a letter of intent, which is scheduled to be formalized by contract in three months, was the main story on the evening newscasts. Television anchorman Bruno Masure of TF1, one of the three government channels, announced to viewers, "Mickey, Donald, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are coming to France."

But selection of the French site, Marne-la-Vallee, 16 miles east of Paris, was a bitter disappointment to Spain, which had also sought to attract the park.

Spanish officials were informed by Disney officials of the decision earlier in the day.

Disney had been considering four sites on Spain's eastern Mediterranean coast--in Alicante, Valencia, Castellon and Tarragona--for a year-round outdoor park that would take advantage of the area's beaches and mild weather.

Spaniards had been so obsessed with attracting a Disneyland that Cambio 16, the leading Spanish news magazine, ran a cartoon parody recently of the famous Francisco Goya etching, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters." In the parody, the Spanish sleeper dreamed of Walt Disney characters instead of Goyesque monsters.

Reached by telephone in a Paris restaurant, Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive of Burbank-based Walt Disney Productions, cited several reasons for choosing the Paris area.

"France, more than any other country in the world, has been enthusiastic about Disney productions, Disney characters, Disney products, the whole Disney culture, for 60 years," he said. "It has been the leading market of the world for Disney after the United States."

Eisner also said that his company had been swayed by the population density of the area (10 million people in 30 square miles) and by the rail and road facilities from Paris to the site. He said the French government had agreed to be "fiscally flexible" in defining Disneyland for tax purposes. He declined to go into detail about this, but said, "I would not call them concessions."

When completed, the French Disneyland will be the largest amusement park in Europe. French officials estimated that more than $1 billion will be spent on construction and that up to 30,000 jobs will be created. Eisner said the park, at the time of opening in 1991, will probably have 10,000 employees, but he said he could not estimate how many workers will be hired for construction.

Michel Giraud, the president of the Council of the Ile-de-France, the regional body that administers the areas surrounding Paris, called the signing of the letter of intent "a victory for us."

Marne-la-Vallee is one of five urban centers created in the Paris area by the French government in 1965 to relieve the pressure on Paris. The idea was to make each of these areas attractive enough to compete with Paris as a place to live. Although the urban centers are called "new towns," they are more like five urban concentrations; each consists of several satellite towns.

Until now, Marne-la-Vallee's best-known landmark has been a chocolate factory that dates from long before the area was designated as a new town. The new Disneyland will cover 250 acres, but French officials said that another 2,500 acres will be used for hotels, parking lots and a new railway station.

Eisner said the new Euro-Disneyland, as he called it, will be the second largest of the four Disneylands. He said it will be 13 times larger than the original Disneyland in Anaheim, which opened in 1953, and slightly larger than the Disneyland in Tokyo, which opened two years ago.

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