July 31, 2008 / 2:04 AM / 12 years ago

Disney offers to refinance Hong Kong Disneyland loan

LOS ANGELES, July 30 (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) has offered to refinance more than $300 million in commercial loans due on Sept. 30 for its Hong Kong Disneyland joint venture, but has met with resistance from its partner, the Hong Kong government, a Disney spokesman said on Wednesday.

In a financial filing on Wednesday, Disney disclosed that it has been in talks with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over financing arrangements to allow its newest park to pay off the commercial loans of about $329 million.

In talks with the Hong Kong government, Disney “has expressed its willingness to replace the facilities with loans from the company” and “to provide additional investment” in the park, which has been criticized as too small to draw long-term stays and repeat business.

But Disney has not reached an agreement with the joint venture to resolve the loan, raising the possibility that the joint venture would turn instead to a tight commercial credit market for potentially onerous terms and saddling the company with potentially unfavorable financial disclosures.

The company was “disappointed that both shareholders in the joint venture hadn’t yet been able to reach an agreement,” Disney spokesman Jonathan Friedland said.

Disney believed its loan offer would give the joint venture “financial breathing room” needed to maintain the Hong Kong park’s recent operational gains and set it on a firm financial footing, Friedland said.

“We are totally confident and committed to the continued growth of Hong Kong Disneyland as a premiere tourist destination in the region, demonstrated by the company’s offer to assume the loan,” he said.

Last year, the joint venture was forced to amend its loan agreements after the Hong Kong park failed to meet semi-annual performance targets.

The amended agreement removed the performance targets and decreased the amount of a revolving credit facility but also shortened the loan due date to Sept. 30, 2008, from Oct. 15, 2015.

As part of that amendment, Disney waived management fees and deferred royalties for fiscal 2008 and 2009 to support the park, whose attendance has lagged expectations since its 2005 opening.

The 310-acre (126-hectare) park is expandable to a total of 457 acres (185 hectares) to accommodate future phases, according to Disney.

The Hong Kong government, which owns 57 percent of the park, has taken political heat for the park’s missed attendance target and has branded its performance as “unsatisfactory.”

The park became the sole beneficiary this week of an easy-visa arrangement that could bring millions of visitors from mainland China who are not normally qualified to visit Hong Kong. (Editing by Gary Hill)

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