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Mickey, Minnie and Cohorts to Have New Home in France

March 25, 1987|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Premier Jacques Chirac of France signed an unprecedented contract with Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday for construction of the first Disneyland in Europe and told reporters, in fluent but heavily accented English: "I'm sure it will be a great success, because it is Disney and it is France."

The Euro Disneyland, as it will be known, is scheduled to open in 1992 on 4,800 acres in Marne-la-Vallee, 18 miles east of Paris. Counting on the enormous numbers of tourists who flock to Paris all the time and on the French fascination with American culture, the planners hope to draw 10 million visitors a year to a park that will closely follow the model of the other Disney attractions in Anaheim, Orlando, Fla., and Tokyo.

One clause in the contract requires Euro Disneyland to respect and utilize French culture in its themes, and Michael D. Eisner, chairman and chief executive of Disney, pledged to do just that. But, when pressed at a news conference for examples of what he had in mind, Eisner could come up with no more than traditional Disney themes such as Cinderella, which, Eisner noted, had come from Europe in the first place.

"Walt Disney borrowed these themes from Europe and brought them to America," Eisner said. "Now, we are returning them."

In its first phase, Euro Disneyland will feature the familiar Magic Kingdom theme and will have sections called Main Street, Westernland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland.

Overall, there have been very few outcries in France against any possible suffocation of French culture by Disney culture in the new park. Most protests have been more down to earth, from farmers upset at the loss of rich agricultural land, from other property owners demanding more compensation for their requisitioned land and from carnival operators infuriated by a new competitor aided by tax breaks.

The contract reduces the government tax on tickets to Euro Disneyland from 17.6% to 7%. Customers entering a local carnival pay the full tax of 17.6%. After carnival operators protested, Chirac said the government was considering lowering the tax for small carnivals as well.

Construction of the park and other nearby facilities is expected to cost $2.5 billion, making the project the largest single foreign investment in France ever. The park itself will represent $1.5 billion of the cost.

In almost 18 months of difficult negotiations, France had to make tax concessions and promise to invest in public works, such as an extension of the suburban subway line, to secure the contract. The investments by the French national and local governments will total more than $250 million.

Chirac said the size of private investments and the park's creation of thousands of jobs made the government's concessions and spending worthwhile.

The premier described the negotiations as "long, difficult, serious and responsible" and the resulting contract as a compromise. "That is always the case in good business arrangements between serious men," he said.

Eisner was asked if he anticipated difficulty in putting together the financing for the huge investment. He replied that the question of the money "will be complicated." But "if all else fails, we will bank on the magic of Disney and hope that the dreams come true." Chirac quickly admonished the questioner, in English: "Don't worry about it."

French officials say that 20,000 workers will be hired during the construction of Euro Disneyland and that 30,000 permanent jobs will be created later by the development of the park and surrounding facilities--hotels, restaurants and a golf course. Once the park opens, its foreign visitors are expected to bring more than $600 million in foreign exchange into France every year.

At a reception after the ceremony, Chirac's aides exhibited a framed illustration presented as a gift from Disney to commemorate the signing. The illustration was of a scene from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in which the witch is handing a poisoned apple to Snow White.

A French photographer laughed. "The symbolism is obvious," he said. "But I am not sure which of the signers of the contract is Snow White."

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