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December 15, 2008

Malaysia to open Legoland theme park
A multi-million dollar Legoland theme park will open in Malaysia's southern Johor state neighbouring Singapore in 2013, officials said over the weekend, reported AFP.

Merlin Entertainments will design and operate the 209 million dollar park, and will become a 20 percent shareholder, while a consortium led by Iskandar Investment Berhad (IIB) will own the balance.

IIB is an investment holding company which promotes development to support the 17.7 billion ringgit ($5.1 billion) Iskandar Development Region (IDR), while Merlin Entertainments operates various attractions globally including Sea Life, Madame Tussauds and Legoland.

Azman Mokhtar, managing director of state investment arm Khazanah Nasional, said the theme park would boost the tourism sector, a major foreign exchange earner for Malaysia. Khazanah is a major investor in the IDR.

"This is a significant first step in developing Iskandar Malaysia as an international tourist destination," he said in a statement late Saturday following the signing ceremony between IIB and Merlin Entertainments.

The IDR, which was launched in November 2006, also includes exclusive residential homes, a logistics hub, a waterfront city, a medical hub and an educational city.

The development will be 2.5 times the size of Singapore when completed and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has referred to it as Malaysia's most important and ambitious initiative.

John Jakobsen, managing director of Legoland Parks, said the company was looking forward to the rollout of East Asia's first Legoland Park.

"We love the location of Iskandar Malaysia and are delighted by our partnership with IIB," he said.

Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments' chief executive, said despite the global slowdown, he was confident of the success of the new theme park.

"We are very excited by this development which underlines our continued confidence in the market despite the current global economic situation.

"Our strong belief is that while not recession-proof, quality branded attractions such as ours are recession-resilient. Even when times are hard people will choose to get away from the gloom," he said.

Malaysia has long harboured ambitions of turning Johor into a major metropolis to rival gleaming Singapore which lies across a narrow waterway.

Universal Studios is involved in a $3.4 billion resort project in Singapore.

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