More Designers Now Needed For Expansion
Former Walt Disney creative designers - including 30 who were sacked four months ago after Hong Kong Disneyland expansion talks stalled - are being recruited to rejoin the theme park now that expansion plans have been approved.
Letters were sent out on Monday to all former "imagineers" who had worked on the park since it opened almost four years ago, including those who were laid off in March. They have been asked to submit their resumes by next Friday if they want to rejoin.
Sources familiar with the situation said that while all the imagineers were previously paid by parent corporation The Walt Disney Company, based in Burbank, California, some would now be paid by Hong Kong Disneyland.
The move, which came just three days after the Legislative Council approved the park's expansion, has raised suspicions that at least some of the dismissals were a tactical move to put pressure on the government.
In March, Disney halted all creative and design work related to expanding the theme park and laid off more than 30 imagineers. The drastic job cuts reduced the size of the Hong Kong-based imagineering team to a skeleton crew of only about 10 staff.
Events have left some of the sacked staff feeling used and doubtful about whether they want to return.
"I'm still thinking about it," one of the former imagineers said.
Disney expert Dennis Speigel, president of Cincinnati, Ohio-based consultancy International Theme Park Services, said he believed the dismissals were partly tactical and partly to help Disney trim overheads during the economic downturn.
"To some degree, it was calculated," Mr Speigel said. "When the imagineers were laid off, it sent a signal over the bow of the government that it had to do something."
The government has a 57 per cent equity stake in the joint venture that runs the Hong Kong park, with Disney holding the rest.
Under a new structure that is part of the expansion deal, the government will retain about 52 per cent while Disney's stake will rise to 48 per cent.
Imagineers are responsible for planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management, and research and development of Disney's theme parks.
Given the highly specialised nature of their work, many former imagineers are expected to take up Disney's offer, although some are understood to have found other jobs already.
As much of the design work for the expansion's three new themed "lands" had already been completed, the locally based imagineering team would focus mainly on managing and co-ordinating construction, overseeing show quality and handling architecture and other projects, the sources said.
"We have begun approaching the former imagineers, and re-employment will be considered according to the newly approved expansion plan," a Hong Kong Disneyland official said.
Expatriate pay packages, which usually feature full housing allowances and other benefits, will be included in the HK$3.63 billion estimated cost of the expansion plan.
The Walt Disney Company is paying almost HK$3.5 billion of the expansion's HK$3.63 billion cost. The company has budgeted about HK$162 million for project and construction management expenses, including the cost of hiring imagineers.