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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

'Disneyland': A welcome addition to Lahore's fun quotient?

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It is the granddaddy of theme parks. The enchanting land of make believe and every child's fantasy: Disneyland. And before long, the pulsating city of gardens will house what is being billed as Lahore's Disneyland Park.

A state-of-the-art roller coaster ride, a Disney-model theme park, both indoors and outdoors, and an aquarium with temperature modulation facilities are the salient features of this venture.

The idea of building a theme park had been floating in the Punjab government quarters for some time, but the cost of the project was proving to be a deterrent.
The provincial government was heavily criticised when it signed a Rs36 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Chinese company ‘Golden Bean’ last month. How could it, wondered people, spend such a huge amount of money on entertainment when priorities like health and education continue to be in an abysmal state.
“This is an investment, therefore the Punjab government will not be spending a single penny on this,” defends Abdullah Khan Sumbal, the commissioner of Lahore.
The government, he elaborates, was only responsible for identifying the location for the theme park’s construction, which will be leased by Golden Bean. The Punjab government promptly recommended two sites for the construction of the park, each around 320-350 acres of land.

The first option at Raiwind Road was rejected, but investors agreed on the Kala Shah Kaku site for the project, which will make the theme park accessible through the Lahore-Islamabad motorway. Construction at Kala Shah Kaku will situate the theme park between Lahore and Sheikhupura.
This means that not only Lahorites, but people from all major cities — including Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Islamabad — will be able to visit the theme park.
The Chinese company will also be responsible for operating the park and generating revenues after completing construction in the next 18 months.
Besides promising to provide quality recreation to the people in Pakistan, the company plans to extend investment beyond the construction of a theme park.
“Golden Bean intends to build a shopping mall and a five-star hotel since it will help to generate revenues.
“Theme parks across the world take time to generate revenues. The idea is to make it a wholesome experience for the park’s future customers,” says Sumbal.
To make it more affordable, Sumbal explained that different aspects of the theme-park will be ticketed separately. “So people who just want to just see the theme park will only pay for it, and not for the aquarium.”

Will it work?

A pressing concern is whether the theme park will thrive under Pakistan’s security situation and economic climate.
The management of Fun City — entertaining families in Islamabad with their indoor amusement park at Centaurus Towers — is highly optimistic about the future of this industry in Pakistan, especially in Lahore.
“It is a thriving business. Lahore is a good option because of its dense population, better spending power of citizens, and its security conditions when compared with the likes of Karachi.”
Fun City’s optimism shows in their aim to expand their venture to Islamabad and Lahore in the coming years.

What's the reaction?

Fauzia Shahzad, a mother of three children, says her children are immensely excited about the theme park. “They have seen Disneyland on television, and it would be amazing for them to actually experience it a few kilometres away from home. Some of the features, such as the aquarium, will allow my children to experience it live, instead of watching on discovery channel.”
The theme park is also generating excitement among those who are yet to have a family and children.
“I'm very excited about visiting the theme park with my friends, and sitting on a roller coaster,” says 30-year-old Lahore’s resident Inaam Khan. “Why should kids have all the fun?”
A parent, Jamil Khan, hopes that Disneyland won't be too expensive. "The indoor amusement parks in Lahore are very expensive; a ticket for one child can cost up to Rs800."
He is also concerned about the choice of land for the park's construction. "Agricultural land is being used for this project. That area is very fertile and we should have chosen a different location so that we don’t spoil an arable land."
There are some who question the park's accessibility. "The park is being built on the motorway and many families use motorbikes for commuting. “Families can’t be expected to travel on motorbikes so far, and even if we could, we won’t be allowed to take our motorbikes on the motorway,” says Shahzad, who lives in Lahore.
For others, there are more pressing concerns to take into account that may affect the country's economic and industrial sectors in the long run.
"No-one does anything for free. The Chinese people may be our friends and well-wishers but we cannot rule out the possibility of their expansion into other fields, especially the cottage industry. They already have a huge share in manufacturing electronics and telecommunication devices. Given the fact that it is being constructed amidst some of Pakistan's most important cottage industry centers, like Sialkot, Gujranwala and to some extent Faisalabad, eyebrows will be raised," says Xayn Shah, an architect based in Lahore.
Lahore’s Disneyland seems promising, at least on paper. The provincial government does not have much to lose, since it will provide the general public with entertainment without spending any of its own money.
However, the undertaking has prompted concerns about safety measures, given the poor track record of theme parks in Pakistan, and it is on the government to promulgate the necessary legislation to ensure standards.

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