Amid a land shortage, Hong Kong's government does not want Mickey Mouse to occupy a sizeable plot originally reserved for Disneyland's future expansion. Photo: Handout

After seven months of ongoing demonstrations, Hong Kong’s heavily criticized government is now looking at land issues in a bid to mollify some of its many protesting residents.

Hong Kong papers reported this week that officials have set their eyes on the city’s sprawling Disneyland resort, with a plan to convert part of its land reserved for expansion into public housing plots for about 20,000 transitional homes.

On Monday Frank Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Housing, made a public appeal to the Walt Disney Company to withdraw restrictions in its deal with the city’s government on the use and density of a 60-hectare chunk of land.

The land had been earmarked for the theme park’s future development, but has been vacant for years and the precious space could be unlocked for housing projects.

“[The government] has a contract with Disney that the land will be specially reserved for future extension projects, and should not be used for residential purposes,” Chan told lawmakers during a Legislative Council meeting.

He suggested it was high time the company shouldered its social responsibility and made better use of the plot since the park’s expansion has never materialized.

The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort from above. Large undeveloped chunks of land can be seen on both sides of the resort. Photo: Google Maps
Parents and children flock to Hong Kong Disneyland in its heyday. Photo: Handout

Pressure groups say prefabricated homes could be built there to alleviate the plight of those living in the city’s notorious subdivided units, which are smaller than a standard parking lot, before the government and Disney work out a long-term plan for future development.

The groups say the cramped living conditions and the housing shortage have become a disgrace and the government cannot afford to have a vast fairyland that is in stark contrast with the harsh reality many locals have to live with.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong resort said Disney would start discussions with the authorities on all proposals to develop the site.

The waterfront park on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island opened in 2005 as the first project in Asia owned and operated by the US entertainment conglomerate through a joint venture with the Hong Kong government.

A parade along Street USA at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo: Handout
Visitors wear the classic Disney headbands as they pose for a photo. Photo: Xinhua

In 1999, Disney secured an option with a validity period of 20 years to buy a neighboring site for phased expansion, with the right to extend the option for another decade, when Hong Kong sought to woo Micky Mouse and Donald Duck to diversify its portfolio of tourist attractions.

The related Option Deed also stipulated that no residential homes should be built there, on top of a rigid height and ratio cap to ensure unobstructed sea views for the existing resort as well as conformity in the idyllic, low-density landscaping.

Now, despite the contractual obligations, officials and lawmakers from both the establishment and opposition camps are piling pressure on Disney to release the land to built temporary homes for the hundreds of thousands on an ever-growing waiting list for public housing, while the government is grappling with a land production bottleneck.

Pressing housing woes are part of non-political factors blamed by Beijing and its local loyalists for the mass protests and violence initially triggered by a now-retracted China extradition bill.

Seven months into Hong Kong’s unrest, the theme park, once popular with mainland Chinese and Southeast Asian tourists, is now devoid of them.
The resort sometimes has more performers than visitors as protests in the city scare people away. Photos: Facebook

This is also against the backdrop of Disney taking its time to expand the park and add new attractions after four years of back-to-back losses, and the company has put future development plans on ice.

Worse still, the months of social turmoil since June has dealt a further blow to the park’s attendances, even though Disney is yet to release full year figures for 2019. The usual crowd of tourists from mainland China and Southeast Asia is long gone and popular rides, shops and restaurants have fallen quiet.

Disney revealed in early November that revenue from the Hong Kong resort between July and September had already dropped by US$55 million, offsetting increases booked by its Shanghai and Paris parks during the same period.

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