SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, has signed an agreement to invest 63 billion yuan ($9.45 billion) to build a tourism and sports complex in Jinan city, cinema-to-theme park developer Dalian Wanda Group said in a statement on Friday.
The project, which will have malls, sports facilities, hotels and a theme park, will raise a further challenge to fierce rival Walt Disney Co, which opened a $5.5 billion resort in Shanghai in June.
Wanda's Wang has already taken aim at Disney saying the U.S. firm would be no match for his "wolf pack" of parks. He told Reuters in an interview this week that Wanda would look to build at least 20 such complexes in China.
The park in the eastern city of Jinan will be the first Wanda project to have an emphasis on sports, as Chinese firms look to tap into growing interest in areas from soccer and ice hockey to marathon running. Wang has already invested in soccer clubs and sports media globally.
Wang told Reuters this week that the domestic tourism sector was growing fast - despite a slowdown in the wider economy - and that it could in the future become a ten trillion yuan market, more that double its current size.
"With the age of high-speed rail and people's incomes climbing, I think tourism in the future could become the number one industry," Wang told Reuters.
This year, Wanda broke ground on a 16 billion yuan ($2.44 billion) tourism "city" in southwest China and opened another park in southeastern Nanchang in May.
Work on the Jinan Wanda City is expected to begin in 2017 and open its doors in 2021, Wanda said in the statement.
($1 = 6.6685 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan, Matt Miller and Shu Zhang; Editing by Robert Birsel)