Just when many onlookers assumed Dubai had lost much of its steam, the glitz-crazed emirate announced plans Saturday for a massive tourism and retail development project to include up to 100 hotels, a Universal Studios entertainment center and the largest shopping mall in the world.
The announcement from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE, represents a major reversal of fortunes just three years after the state-owned Dubai World conglomerate had to accept a major debt-restructuring plan. The UAE’s second-largest emirate saw its economy falter as the global financial crisis tightened credit and sent property prices plummeting.
Mohammed bin Rashid City -- as the Persian Gulf hub’s largest expansion project in five years is to be named -- will rise from the sands just outside of Dubai’s current downtown area and include a public park that Sheikh Mohammed said would be 30 percent larger than London’s Hyde Park. Art galleries, golf courses, hotels and a family entertainment center from Universal Studios International would all be designed to attract some 6 million visitors each year. The retail complex, meanwhile, is to be named the Mall of the World and will be capable of welcoming as many as 80 million visitors each year. It will dethrone the nearby Dubai Mall, which is currently billed as the world’s largest.
Sheikh Mohammed offered no word on who would finance the emirate’s latest project, how much it would cost or the timetable for construction. He said only, “We have to start work immediately,” while indicating that investment would total several billions of dollars.
Dubai's new "city" is to be built by Dubai Holding, a conglomerate owned by the Sheikh, and Dubai’s premier real estate firm, Emaar Properties.
"The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city," Sheikh Mohammed stated, noting the city’s goal of becoming “the capital of entrepreneurship, arts, culture and family tourism for over 2 billion people."
The city of superlatives rose from near obscurity a decade ago and is already home to the world’s tallest building, largest man-made island and most expensive hotel. Its tourism is growing by some 13 percent each year, with hotel occupancy rising to 82 percent and revenues growing 22 percent to exceed $4.4 billion in 2011.
Foreign arrivals alone were up 10 percent during the first six months of 2012, and several projects that were put on hold during Dubai’s fiscal meltdown in 2009 have once again resumed.