Inter-Korean thaw resurrects stalled project to build Lego theme park near border

By Lim Chang-won Posted : May 16, 2018, 09:45 Updated : May 16, 2018, 09:45

[Reuters/ Yonhap]

SEOUL -- Helped by a thaw in inter-Korean relations, a stalled project to build the world's largest Lego-themed amusement park near the world's last Cold War frontier is back on track as a British company and its local partners promised to come back with fresh capital.

The project dates back to 2011 when Merlin Entertainments, the British operator of Legoland, teamed up with LL Development, a special-purpose corporation for Legoland Korea, to build a theme park on a lake island in Chuncheon, about 70 kilometers (42 miles) east of Seoul, by 2017. The island is about 30 kilometers away from the southern perimeter of the heavily armed border.

Legoland, a chain of family theme parks, opened the first park in Denmark in 1968, followed by more parks in England, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The parks are known for a model village which includes models of global landmarks and scenes made from Lego bricks.

In a place spanning 1.3 million square meters, a hotel, a water park, shopping malls and Lego attractions were to be built in Chuncheon, but construction was suspended after prehistoric ruins were discovered. Merlin has threatened to withdraw, citing delays and high military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

A fresh deal was forged on Monday between Merlin, LL Development and Gangwon Province, which hosted this year's Winter Olympics in February in the eastern ski resort of Pyeongchang. Chuncheon is the capital city of the province, which shares the heavily armed border with North Korea.

Merlin will invest and manage construction by 2020. LL Development promised to build the world's largest Legoland, saying the new deal would dispel concerns among investors. Some 300 billion won ($280 million) would be invested in the theme park, but provincial government officials envisaged a broad roadmap to turn the area into one of South Korea's leading tourist destinations.

"Merlin's decision to make a direct investment is the most desirable achievement, and it is another accomplishment of the Pyeongchang Olympics," Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon said. He has unveiled plans to capitalize on an inter-Korean thaw brought by North Korea's peace gestures this year.

At their historic summit in April, the two Koreas agreed to end the status of war on the Korean peninsula, stop all hostile acts against each other, establish a permanent peace regime, and turn the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into a truce peace zone.  The DMZ is a four-kilometer-wide strip of land that has divided the Korean peninsula since an armistice accord ended the 1950-53 Korean War. 

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