It's now official that Malaysia will get its first international theme park and the first Legoland branded theme park in Asia.
13 December: The Danish manufacturer of interlocking plastic brick toys and Iskandar Investment Berhad (IIB) will jointly develop a Legoland theme park in Medini Iskandar, near Bandar Nusajaya (near Johor Bahru), the future administrative centre of the southern Johor state.
Nusajaya is part of the ambitious Iskandar Malaysia Economic Region that aims to turn the Johor state into a high-tech urban, industrial and financial hub to rival Singapore, a city-state separated from Johor by a narrow waterway.
Johor and Singapore are linked by the Causeway and the 2nd Link bridge.
The skyline of Iskandar is set to change once the theme park project, with an initial investment of RM750 million, is completed by the end of 2013.
Medini Iskandar Financial District
Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that although the global economy was uncertain at present, the momentum for the development of Iskandar Malaysia was unaffected.
He said that to date, Iskandar Malaysia had received RM40.25 billion in both local and overseas investments, representing 86 percent of the RM47 billion targeted for the first phase until 2010.
While Iskandar Malaysia was launched two years ago, the other corridors were only launched last year.
"(This) RM750 million is a big investment. It is a symbol and proof of the confidence of investors in wanting to continue to invest in Iskandar Malaysia.
"Iskandar Malaysia has displayed convincing progress to enable it to emerge as a high quality and successful development area," he told reporters after witnessing the signing ceremony for the building of the Legoland theme park here today.
According to the Prime Minister, the emergence of Asia's first Legoland theme park in Malaysia was good as the country did not have any competitiors in attracting tourists to a similar facility.
"This means if tourists want to visit a Legoland theme park in Asia, they have to come to Johor Bahru and Malaysia. This is very good as we do not have to compete with other Asian countries."
He also said that the authority responsible for developing Iskandar Malaysia would strive to get more companies to open theme parks in the corridor.
The agreement was signed between IIB managing director Arlida Ariff and Legoland Parks managing director John Jakobsen; and witnessed by the Prime Minister, Chief Minister of Johor State Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman and IIB chairman Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar.
Merlin Entertainment will design and own 20 percent of the joint-venture, while a consortium led by IIB will hold the rest. Once completed, the Legoland theme park will be operated by Merlin.
Merlin, which is controlled by Blackstone Group of New York, an investment and advisory firm, has 70% equity in Legoland theme parks while Lego Group holds 30% stake.
“We want to position our Johor park not only as a leading tourist attraction in Malaysia but also in the region,’’ said Jakobsen.
"Legoland park is different from other parks as our attractions are made to appear as if they are built out of Lego bricks."
At the Cityscape property exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in October, Arlida Ariff was reported as saying that 3 theme parks were being considered in Iskandar.
“We have learnt from the Disneyland Hong Kong’s experience, which is operating with insufficient visitors and revenue.
It is better and more appealing to operate a cluster of theme parks. If Iskandar has only one theme park, visitors from Singapore may return to the republic the same day.
We want them to stay at least one or two nights so that there would be multiplier effects on the economy.”
The plan at Nusajaya is to have a core theme park and a few smaller theme parks. About 1,200ha have been set aside for theme parks, including supporting commercial developments. Other supporting sports and recreation to be built are golf courses and eco-tourism facilities.
Legoland's trademark miniature park made with Lego pieces will certainly be included in Legoland Malaysia
The signing of agreement will make Legoland the first out of 3 theme parks to be built in Nusajaya.
Sources said IIB is currently negotiating with other global theme park players to set up operations next to Legoland. Amongst the big operators are Disneyland USA, Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios and Warner Bros (Movieworld) of Australia.
(Legoland would probably be a secondary theme park if a bigger operator signs up in Johor. And of course, Singapore is currently building a Universal Studios in Resorts World Sentosa. In 2006, there was a proposal to build the world's first gay adult-only theme park in Johor known as Tongziland, modelled after Sydney's Mardi Grass.)
Expect structures like this made with Lego bricks
The Legoland Malaysia theme park will be based on Lego's coloured plastic construction blocks that can create mini structures such as buildings and vehicles, among others.
The theme park will feature more than 40 rides, other attractions and numerous showplays, and would target families with children between the ages of 2 and 12 years and is expected to draw visitors from throughout the region.
Legoland Malaysia will have 5.5 million sqft of gross floor area and will be part of a 145 acre (58.68 hectare) area in Medini Iskandar, previously known as Node 1 Nusajaya, which will also include a shopping center, offices, hotels and residential units, costing a total developmet value of more than 3.5 billion ringgit (US$980 million).
The 58.68 hectare Legoland park will have a total area equivalent to about 72 football fields. In comparison, the Universal Studios theme park coming up at the Sentosa Integrated Resort Singapore in 2010 will be 20 hectare in size.
The proposed site for Legoland Malaysia theme park
A spokeswoman said construction will start in 2010. The project is estimated to create almost 1,000 jobs to the local community and up to 5,000 indirect jobs during its various phases.
An adventurous ride inside the castle based on the Knight's Kingdom Lego set, will most likely be seen in Legoland Malaysia as well
"This is a significant first step in developing Iskandar Malaysia as an international tourist destination," IIB chairman Azman Mokhtar said in a statement afterwards.
There are already 4 Legoland theme parks in the world today - in:
- Carlsbad, San Diego, California, USA;
- Billund, Denmark;
- Windsor, Berkshire, England; and
- Gunzburg, Bavaria region, Germany.
Another Legoland was initially announced to open in Dubai in 2011, but work has not commenced until today.
Some 55 million Lego bricks were used in Britain's Legoland Windsor, including those used to form a near-lifesize replica of a Boeing 747 jet's cockpit. In Legoland California, 35 million Lego bricks were used to shape a dinosaur and an Egyptian pharaoh, among other attractions.
Besides Legoland theme parks, Merlin Entertainment also owns Madame Tussauds, London Eye, Thrope Park, Sea Life Sanctuaries, Dungeons in Europe, 28 aquariums and six hotels across the world.
Lego Group is a Danish enterprise founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen and is today's world 6th largest manufacturer of toys; while IIB is an investment holding company which coordinates the Iskandar Malaysia zone launched in 2006.
Other theme parks in the region include the 126 hectare Hong Kong Disneyland, the 51 hectare Tokyo Disneyland and the 49 hectare Tokyo DisneySea.
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Reporting and (some) pictures by TheStar, The New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia, The Straits Times (Singapore) and The Associated Press. Other photos show the attractions in existing Legoland parks. The author is not to be held responsible for any distortion of information provided above. The blogpost will be updated from time to time. The author is an urban development commentator-cum-researcher on Skyscrapercity (SSC) Malaysia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.