Reporting from Beijing — Walt Disney Co. signed an agreement with a company operated by the Shanghai government Friday to build a long-awaited theme park in the commercial capital of China, both parties said.
The signing, 15 years after the two sides first opened discussions on the project, moves the $3.6-billion Shanghai Disneyland closer to becoming a reality.
The deal was struck with Shanghai Shen Di Group Co., a municipal company registered in August and inaugurated Friday that will serve as Disney's joint partner in the joint venture.
"We can confirm the statement from the Shanghai government that we have taken another step forward in the approval process," Disney said in an e-mailed statement. "We are still awaiting final approval from the central government on the incorporation of the related joint venture companies and the completion of the necessary regulatory processes."
China's central government approved plans for the resort a year ago, advancing Disney's attempt to gain a foothold in the world's fastest-growing economy and potentially lucrative consumer market.
It was reported then that Disney would take a 43% equity stake in Shanghai Disneyland while the joint-venture company would own the remaining 57%.
The theme park, which is expected to cover 1½ square miles and open by 2014, would be Disney's fourth outside the U.S.
The company has struggled with its Hong Kong location, which opened in 2005 under criticism that it was too small. It has since launched a major expansion to draw more visitors.
A source familiar with the negotiations between Disney and Shanghai said it could take several months for Beijing to approve smaller joint ventures that will handle the hotel and theme park portions of the resort.
"We're not quite at the end of the road yet," the source said.