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Neverland, or never happen?

WENZHOU folk are widely known as shrewd businesspeople, so it should come as no surprise that a group from the Zhejiang Province industrial city may be the first investors in China to cash in on Michael Jackson's death with a project in Shanghai

Or maybe the attorneys for Jackson's estate will take one look at the deal and say "beat it."

In any event, the Wenzhou investors have submitted an application to Chongming County government to build a tourism project that will feature a down-sized version of Jackson's Neverland Ranch. It will be part of a larger agriculture-themed sightseeing area that will offer country-style food and music.

"We believe the farmland, without the Neverland Ranch, would be too plain," said Qiu Xuefan, deputy director of the Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. "We got the idea after Jackson passed away. As he had never performed on the Chinese mainland, we think it would be a good idea to build a place for Chinese fans to remember him."

Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, includes a private amusement park, a floral clock, a zoo, lakes and cinemas. It was Jackson's home from 1988 to 2005.

The Shanghai version will be 1/17th the size of the original, covering 667,000 square meters and featuring most of the same elements. It is expected to cost around 100 million yuan (US$14.6 million). Its first phase, constituting the main Neverland structure, could be completed in a year.

The Chongming government said Xianghua Town, where the project would be located, has reached a preliminary agreement to provide the land to the investors. Officials in the town declined to comment on the project.

It wasn't clear yesterday whether the Jackson estate will even agree to allow the Neverland theme to play out here.

Wu Pei, another Wenzhou chamber official who also claimed to be chief representative of Beverly Hills in China, told Shanghai Daily she had been talking with "people who were close to Jackson" to obtain Jackson memorabilia for display in Shanghai.

"We believe Jackson's cultural relics belong to the whole world," she said. "And we don't think there will be a problem with intellectual property rights."

Liu Chunquan, a lawyer at Guangsheng & Partners Attorneys at Law and an expert on IPR issues, urged caution, however.

"The developers should reach an agreement with the rights holders or they would break the law," Liu said.


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