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Legoland opens after decade of delays

Visitors queue up to enter the Legoland theme park in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, Thursday. (Yonhap)
Visitors queue up to enter the Legoland theme park in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, Thursday. (Yonhap)
A Legoland theme park opened to the public on Children’s Day, Thursday, in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, 11 years after the deal was signed between Britain’s Merlin Entertainments and the local government.

Merlin, the world’s second-largest operator of visitor attractions behind Walt Disney, had faced opening delays several times because the joint project attracted little capital from local investors and led to a discovery of ancient artifacts on the site the park was built.

The new park, whose groundbreaking ceremonies had taken place three times and official opening was postponed seven times, is the latest attraction among the 10 parks Merlin built globally and the first one built on an island in the city with a population of 280,000.

The park -- Merlin’s third Legoland in Asia after Japan and Malaysia -- was busy running the last safety checks in April before Thursday’s opening. Families with children aged 2 to 12 are the target audience, the park said.

“Legoland Korea is a place for children and their families. The opening is all the more meaningful because it’s Children’s Day. We believe this will be the theme park for anyone seeking a real Lego experience,” said Phil Royle, the director overseeing Legoland Korea Resort.

A total of 12,000 visitors who were allowed to enter the park on the first day witnessed the official opening. Tickets sold out two days prior, according to the park, which features 40 high-tech attractions including roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and water parks.

The attractions are grouped into seven different themes, like Lego City and Lego Castle, and are set up along with a 150-room hotel on lands spanning about a total of 280,000 square kilometers.

Meanwhile, some civic groups carried on protesting the opening, saying the local government had violated the law in greenlighting the joint project, because it used more taxpayers’ money than was warranted and agreed to take a cut of the profits the groups saw as inadequate.

Adding to the concerns is criticism that the local government had allegedly taken no steps to ensure that the artifacts found during the construction be kept in a separate safe place.

The groups have filed a complaint against the chief of the Cultural Heritage Administration, the agency handling the matter, accusing him of inaction and saying they would also bring similar charges against the Gangwon and Chuncheon mayors.

The Cultural Heritage Administration and Gangwon Province have said the accusations are unfounded.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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