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Yes, Jackson Just Loves Poland, or so It Themes

May 29, 1997|DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WARSAW — To the clinking of champagne glasses and the glare of Klieg lights, pop superstar Michael Jackson and Polish authorities on Wednesday signed a "preliminary letter of intent" to develop a theme park here in the Polish capital.

The letter mentions no price, but Jackson's business manager, Tarak Ben Ammar, said in an interview that estimates of Jackson's contribution range between $100 million and $300 million--modest sums by Western theme park standards. Poland would add an unknown amount.

"My dream is to appeal to the child that lives in the heart of every man and woman on this planet and to create something in Poland that is so unique and so unusual that it cannot be experienced in any other place," Jackson said in a hastily arranged ceremony at City Hall.

The four-sentence document, signed by Jackson and Warsaw Mayor Marcin Swiecicki, commits the two sides to jointly develop the concept of a "family entertainment" center over the next 12 months. They will then determine whether to go forward with a project, the agreement states.

Ammar said Jackson, who last year formed a partnership with a Saudi prince to develop theme parks worldwide, considers Poland a "serious investment" opportunity. Wednesday was the first time the singer agreed to a written declaration, he said, though he has also held serious discussions in China, Korea, Italy and the United States.

"Poland is certainly a priority in our theme park vision of the world," said Ammar, ticking off a list of the country's attributes. "The demand is so big. Hundreds of millions of people live around Poland. The [large] economic growth. The dedication Polish people have to children. The family values. And the lack of entertainment because they have just changed their economy."

Swiecicki said the two sides agreed the park should be open year-round, offer entertainment for both children and adults and showcase "Polish and universal values." While it would compete with Disneyland Paris, Swiecicki said the theme park would not be adapted from the Disney model.

"It is supposed to be a modern park, not a repetition of something that has already been done in Disneyland or somewhere else," he said.

Building anything comparable to Disneyland Paris would cost far more than $300 million, experts say. The Jurassic Park ride alone at Universal Studios in Los Angeles cost $110 million.

After the signing ceremony, Jackson--donning sunglasses and a black hat in torrential rain--flew to southwestern Poland, where he toured a 12th-century monastery in the small town of Lubiaz.

Ammar said Jackson is considering the complex of buildings--one of the largest castles in Europe--as a Polish residence, though the terms of such an arrangement were still being discussed. The dilapidated castle needs about $20 million in restoration work, according to Foundation Lubiaz, which has maintained the UNESCO-designated historic monument since 1989.

Jackson told Polish television that he wants to find a home in Poland because the country "is full of love."

"I would love to live here," he said.

Ammar dismissed speculation that Jackson's high-profile sweep into Poland was little more than a publicity stunt to hype his upcoming world tour which kicks off next week in Germany and for which 2 million tickets have been sold.

"I would respect that criticism if we were coming back to Poland on the tour," Ammar said. "Let's go to the facts. We already pre-sold all of the tickets before we even came here. The truth is that we don't need the hype."

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