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Disney meets Philippines president to discuss park for former Clark base

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 29, 2016

Clark Air Base, once America’s largest overseas military installation, could become the Philippines’ home of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy if local boosters get their way.

A January meeting between Walt Disney Co. executives and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has created speculation that a theme park could be built on the old air base that U.S. forces vacated after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

The idea of bringing Disney to Clark was originally proposed by Filipino politician Carmelo Lazatin, who, according to Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper, wrote to the company in 2012 offering the former base, renamed Clark Freeport Zone, for consideration as an amusement park.

“The Clark Freeport Zone may interest you and Walt Disney as the next location for your famous Disneyland theme park, as it boasts of a 4,400-hectare main zone and 27,600-hectare subzone,” he wrote.

The Philippines is already a popular destination for tourists, with an average of 4 million foreign visitors each year. And Clark Freeport Zone offers tax breaks for investors, Lazatin said.

“Together with our population of more than 90 million Filipinos, a Disneyland theme park in the Philippines could be a major income generating site for your company,” he said in the letter.

The Philippines isn’t the only Asian nation keen to turn an old U.S. military base into an amusement park. In December, the mayor of Ginowan City on Okinawa, Japan, suggested Marine Corps Air Station Futenma be developed as a Disney resort when the land returns to Japanese control after U.S. forces relocate to Henoko in the northern part of the prefecture.

Disney, which already has theme parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, did not immediately respond to questions about the prospect of building a park in the Philippines.

Clark Special Economic Zone chairman Guy Hilbero last week confirmed Aquino’s meeting with Disney executives. A sticking point in negotiations has been the cost of the land at Clark, he said.

“The Disney people wanted 100 hectares of land for free, but nobody can give away that much land for nothing,” he said.

There is plenty of land available for development at the old air base, which has already attracted 800 businesses, including tourism operators, factories, information technology companies and schools, Hilbero added.

There’s also a proposal to move government offices there from Manila and transform Clark, which now handles civilian traffic, into the Philippines’ main international airport.

Development plans have some locals questioning the future of the Angeles City red-light district, which includes hundreds of bars and gentlemen’s clubs near the base’s old main gate.

John Gilbert, commander of the Angeles City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, said family-friendly entertainment might be able to co-exist with the bars.

“There’s a problem with the personality of Angeles City, but if you tried to make it family-friendly, what if nobody else comes? They need the tourists who come, and if they happen to be single people rather than families that is how it is for now,” he said.

robson.seth@stripes.com

Twitter: @SethRobson1

Philippine air men direct a Boeing 777 at the former Clark Air Base, Pampanga, Philippines, that's carrying U.S. Marines for an exercise in 2014. A January meeting between Walt Disney Co. executives and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has created speculation that a theme park could be built on the base U.S. forces vacated after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
Sara Medina/U.S. Marine Corps photo

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