Former Disney man to build $13.5bn mega-resort for Spain – but will they come?

Cora Alpha, a development company headed by a former Disney executive, has announced further details of its plan to build a $13.5bn solar-powered "smart city" in the Spanish city of Badajoz in the remote region of Extremadura on the Portuguese border.

The plan for Elysium City – or Ciudad Feliz – combines elements of eco-city and theme park, with sustainable utilities, a high speed rail system, a 40,000-seat stadium, residential housing and a number of large leisure and hospitality projects.

It was announced by Cora Alpha founder John Cora at the beginning of December last year.

The city will be developed in two phases. The first, to be complete by 2023, will include a five-star hotel and casino, a four-star theme park hotel, theme park and water park, a conference centre, a data centre, a golf course, a sports and entertainment complex for football and music, and a marina on the River Guadiana, which will run through the new city.

The second phase, slated to being in 2028, will include more hotels, a Formula 1 track, a horse riding centre, and other elements yet to be announced.

The venture hopes to attract 4 million people, and is expected to create 15,000 jobs by the completion of the first phase and up to 50,000 by year 10.

Cora told Travel + Leisure magazine that the development would be the first of its kind.

"It will be a smart city from ground up, but the core will be the entrainment pieces: a Disney-level major theme park and an adventure water park that’s unlike typical water parks," he said.

"The goal is to have it be a place where you want to work, live and play."

Canadian developer Triple Five Group also outlined a plan to build a resort in Badajoz province in Castilblanco, but abandoned it in July last year in favour of Andalucía. Paul Watson, Head of Triple Five in Europe, said at the time: "The business needs to be profitable, something which would not have been possible in Castilblanco. It wasn’t the right location."

Triple Five’s plan included an airport, whereas Cora Alpha’s relies instead on improvements to the road network in the region.

During the press conference that announced the development in December, Guillermo Fernández Vara, the president of Extremadura, said he would ask the central government to make improvements to the N-502 highway to Madrid.

He also suggested that traffic would be boosted by the forthcoming A-43 highway, which will connect Badajoz with eastern Spain, and the construction of a second airport in Madrid.

Some commentators are sceptical as to whether this would be enough to persuade visitors to make their way to the famously remote province.

Warwick Bartlett, chief executive of Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy, told Casino Review: "Extremadura’s location is quite remote from the main cities of Spain and it has no international airport. So, to get there you would have to go to Madrid then fly internally, this is not conducive to the development of a major international resort."

Image: Cora Alpha’s rendering of Elysium City

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