Britain to Offer Incentives to Lure MCA Park : Entertainment: The film company is expected to choose a site by the end of summer. Paris is also being considered.


The British government is preparing a package of financial incentives for MCA Inc. that it hopes will persuade the entertainment conglomerate to build its proposed $3.4-billion theme park and film studio here rather than at a competing site outside Paris. Executives from MCA, the parent of Universal Studios, are expected to choose a location before the end of summer.

British newspapers reported Monday that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had become personally involved in the effort to snag the European version of the Universal Studios Tour. An interdepartmental committee of top ministers reportedly was formed at Thatcher’s behest and instructed to devise a winning plan.

Government spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny those accounts but did say various government ministries were working together in the effort to lure MCA to Britain.

“The government is keen to see this project come to the U.K.,” said Martin Patterson of the Department of Trade and Industry. “A number of government agencies are working to see how and where we can assist.”


MCA, based in Universal City, is considering a 1,600-acre site in east London called Rainham Marshes. As the name suggests, the area is largely marshland. It would have to be improved before it could be used as a building site.

Patterson declared it “premature to speculate on how we might assist” MCA. But he implied that upgrading the land was a strong possibility.

Other incentives that the British may offer include tax breaks and guarantees on construction of roads and other infrastructure. British Rail has said it will bolster its links between central London and Rainham.

The British already have made concessions. Earlier this year, the environment secretary, Chris Patten, opted to forgo the “public inquiry” process that would have opened the project to public--and lengthy--debate. MCA had made it clear that it would take its park to Paris rather than wait through the one to two years that public inquiry can last.

Conservationists have vehemently opposed developing the marshlands. On Friday, the environmental group Friends of the Earth announced that it had found evidence that radioactive waste had been buried at the site, part of which has been used as a dump. Government and MCA officials dismissed the claims as alarmist, saying radioactivity levels were too low to qualify as low-level radioactive waste. Further investigation is planned.

The borough of Havering, the local government overseeing Rainham Marshes, already has approved MCA’s plans for the area. They call for working film and television studios, the Universal Studios Tour theme park, a multiplex cinema, hotels, a conference center, a business park and a railway station. MCA is throwing in a 428-acre nature reserve and a 175-acre ecology park.

“It would be a massive boost to the economy,” said a Havering official. MCA projects that the new park will attract 5 million visitors a year.

Government officials envision thousands of new jobs, a major increase in tourism across the country and a boost to the British film and television industry. There even is talk of building permanent sets for several popular BBC programs--including “Eastenders"--at the new studio facilities.

Tony Young, president of MCA Enterprises International, said both the British and French sites “are looking pretty good.” While both countries are offering strong incentives, he said, “neither will package it all up and hand it to us on a plate.”

Unlike the Rainham Marshes site, the French site is ready to be developed immediately. Young said MCA would be able to open a park in France in 1994 but probably couldn’t open in Britain until 1995.

The MCA executive said he is looking to each government to ensure road and railway links and a smooth and predictable development process, among other things.

While the French have offered a tax incentive plan, “the British have been much more vague,” Young said. “We’re trying to get them to pin it down.”

There has been speculation that both countries are dangling incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Young says it is impossible to put a price tag on the offers at this point.