Italy plans $55 million ‘Disneyland of food’ in attempt to help revive economy

BY Robert Pursell  February 27, 2014 at 11:22 AM EDT
Photo by Flickr user singingbeagle

Photo by Flickr user singingbeagle

Epicureans and lovers of Italian fare can rejoice at the news that Eataly — the Italian food-emporium chain — and the municipality of Bologna will develop a theme park dedicated entirely to food; the latest in a string of public-private partnerships aimed at helping to revive Italy’s economy.

The park, set to be titled “Eataly World,” is scheduled to open November 1, 2015 and was made possible by a grant of more than 86,000 square feet of land from Bologna’s Centro Agroalimentare. The near 20 acres of land contains multiple unused warehouses that park developers hope to transform into restaurants, food labs, grocery stores and an aquarium; among other features to help draw tourists to the area. The price tag for this gastronomic wonderland is reportedly $54.9 million.

Financing for the project comes from Prelios SGR, an Italian fund-management company, that says it has already raised around $116 million from investors, and hopes to raise more than $500 million for additional, similar projects.

For Italy, it’s the latest in an attempt to boost its faltering economy. According to reports from the International Monetary Fund’s database, Italy’s economy is smaller today than it was at the turn of the century. As of December 2013, unemployment in Italy stood at 12.7 percent, and the per capita GDP for Italians has actually fallen by seven percent since 2000.

Yet, there are small signs for hope. Last quarter Italy’s GDP grew 0.1 percent; its first increase in 10 quarters. And investors in the development hope to use Italy’s greatest strength, its tourism, to continue that growth.

At present, Italy is the fourth most-visited country in the world, drawing nearly 50 million visitors per year. With more world heritage sites than any other country in the world, tourists flock to Italy to celebrate its deep historical and cultural roots as well as to partake in its vaunted cuisine — something Eataly CEO Oscar Farinatti says he hopes to capitalize on.

“We want people from around the world to play with this magical thing, Italian food,” said Farinatti. He says that he expects the theme park to attract as many as 10 million guests a year.

Italy is currently saddled by $2.7 trillion in debt, debt that governments have been trying to reduce by selling off public property — with an eye towards tourism. Other developments have been proposed in cities such as Venice, where Italian ride developer Antonio Zamperla is proposing turning an abandoned nearby island into a theme park that celebrates the city’s history.