China took a step toward getting its first international-class theme park on Saturday. If the preliminary deal with Universal Studios succeeds, the park will entertain millions and employ thousands in Shanghai.

The Universal Studios theme park is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and be built around thrill rides based on popular movies like Jurassic Park and Spider Man. The park will also mix Hollywood with traditional Chinese themes.

The first phase of construction may begin next year and would fill 80 hectares in Shanghai's Pudong development area. Shanghai is China's largest and richest city and considered a lucrative market for the country's fast-growing domestic tourism industry.

U.S.-based Universal Studios is working with two Chinese companies on the project. The deal still needs approval from the central government in Beijing, but the agreement was signed by a ranking member of the Shanghai Communist Party, indicating it enjoys high-level support.

The deal comes as rival Walt Disney Company is building a $1.8 billion theme park in Hong Kong, due to open in 2005 or 2006. Disney has also reportedly been discussing a theme park in the Shanghai area, but Universal seems to have beat Disney to the punch.