Source: SCMP Hong Kong News Headlines | Hong Kong's premier newspaper online | SCMP.com

Detailed building plans for more rides and attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland will be submitted to the government for approval this month, paving the way for construction work on expanding the theme park to start by late December, people briefed on the matter say.

After the plans receive official approval, the infrastructure work will be tendered out.

Several recently sacked Disney "imagineers", or creative staff, have already been rehired and have started work. More than 30 imagineers were expected to be hired as part of the expansion, those who had been briefed said. If everything goes smoothly, construction work will start by the end of the year.

The government, which holds 57 per cent of the equity in the theme park joint venture with The Walt Disney Company, is keen to demonstrate how the HK$3.63 billion expansion will benefit the community. During construction, the project will create more than 3,000 jobs and, on completion, 600 more permanent staff will be hired.

Board members of Hong Kong Disneyland met yesterday and will meet again in about three months' time.

The expansion will add three new themed areas, for a total of seven "lands", and see the area of the theme park increase by about 23 per cent. The new lands are Grizzly Trail, Mystic Point and Toy Story, which is based on the animated film.

Up to the end of May, more than 17 million people had visited the theme park since it opened in September 2005, but summer attendance this year had suffered, those who had been briefed said.

The expansion deal is seen as the best possible option for the government as there is no need for more taxpayer funds. Taxpayers shouldered about HK$23 billion of the HK$27 billion development cost, yet the government only acquired a 57 per cent stake. Disney invested just HK$2.45 billion for a 43 per cent share.

To facilitate the expansion, Disney will inject new funds while the government will use previous loans to the theme park to buy more of its shares. According to details provided by the government to the Legislative Council last month, the changes to the shareholding structure will take place in phases starting from Disneyland's 2008-09 financial year, which ends on September 30.

The government will convert more than HK$2.97 billion of its loans to shares, while Disney will convert its HK$2.76 billion loan to shares and inject HK$212 million in capital.

The changes will lower the government's stake to 53.43 per cent and increase Disney's holding to 46.56 per cent. By 2011-12, annual incremental changes will leave the government with 52.19 per cent and Disney with 47.81 per cent.