A formidable group of media and entertainment entrepreneurs have joined forces to build China’s version of Broadway or West End in central Shanghai.
Dream Center, a 15 billion yuan (US$2.45 billion) cultural complex in the heart of the country’s financial capital, is the brainchild of the United States’ Dreamworks Animation, mainland private equity group China Media Capital and Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) Group, and is expected to be completed by early 2018.
“This will be the most iconic entertainment district in China where people can come to work, play, relax and watch shows,” says Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong, one of the lead partners in the consortium. “This is going to be the new media and cultural hub of Shanghai.”
DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg added, “With the addition of Dream Center, Shanghai will become the world third largest urban centre of entertainment and arts alongside New York’s Broadway and London’s West End. Together with the West Bund Media Port, Dream Center will be an exciting hub for local residents, and a magnet for international tourism.”
The 4.64 million square foot cultural district will rise opposite the Shanghai Expo site from across the Huangpu River, and compares well with Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, a public-funded arts and cultural project.
In fact, the two waterfront projects with similar cultural ambitions may symbolize the sibling rivalry between Hong Kong and Shanghai, which are also trying to outdo each other in the financial arena.
The West Kowloon Cultural District will only have the first four of its 17 planned facilities, including a performance venue Xiqu Centre and contemporary art museum M+, completed in 2017 and is likely to need more funding to get fully operational by a yet unknown date.
Meanwhile, the consortium behind Dream Center has been talking to cultural operators with international presence and local cultural interests as part of efforts to find tenants for its 12 buildings that will include a dome theater, music halls, art galleries, black-box theaters and iMax cinemas.
Zeman, who also sat on the board of West Kowloon Cultural District, said the two projects have different thrusts and follow different schedules, although he admits being worried more about Hong Kong.
“I see the speed of China’s moving and Hong Kong seems to be stuck at the moment,” he said. “We need to pull ourselves and really start to work together — not criticize every single aspect and forget the big picture.”
Dream Center marks LKF Group’s return to Shanghai, having first invested in an entertainment business in the city 15 years ago before selling it after eight years of operation. Dream Center is the biggest mainland investment for Zeman’s property business, which also operates in Chengdu, Wuxi and Haikou, the latter involving project in cooperation with Mission Hill Group that is due to open by year-end.
About 18 months ago, Zeman was invited by Dreamworks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg for a possible joint investment in a cultural district with China Media Capital.
China Media Capital founder Li Ruigong, the man behind the wildly popular TV singing competition “The Voice of China”, immediately flew to Wuxi to meet with Zeman and they hit it off as they shared the vision of turning the place into something dramatic, like China’s version of New York’s Broadway or London’s West End.
The three parties would each bring their specialties and business expertise to the project, with Dreamworks contributing its creative acumen and moving its headquarters to the site, while Li would leverage his media background in creating a media hub.
Zeman would bring in not just LKF Group’s dining and entertainment partners, but also its property development management experience, and has been tasked to put together 15 designer firms for the project.
“China is a very exciting place at the moment and a good place to be,” Zeman said during the media preview of the Shanghai project on Thursday. “Shanghai has become my second home. I come here almost every week for work.”
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