Is Dubailand project in danger of becoming a white elephant?

It was billed as the biggest leisure destination on the planet with projects of unprecedented scale and ambition. But two years after its launch, Dubailand has been pared back and just 21 of the 45 main projects within the mega-development have been signed off.

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  February 4, 2006

It was supposed to be bigger and better than anything before. When Dubailand was first unveiled back in October 2003, it made headlines across the world — and for good reason. With over 200 leisure and entertainment-based projects, spread over six zones, and some 300 million m2 development, this really was a project of unprecedented magnitude. Little more than two years on, the decision has been taken to rein back on the development and freeze all future Dubailand projects until the ones already signed off are completed. But while the project freeze may come as a blow to contractors and consultants keen to get a slice of the action, some experts say that the slowdown in development could be a positive move for Dubai on the whole. “I don’t see it having a detrimental impact on development in general,” said Ian Albert, director of Colliers UAE. “On the positive side, it allows for the rest of the projects in Dubailand to get started, and hopefully finished on time. It will also remove some of the internal competition and allow other mega-projects in Dubai to move forward — we need to get on with projects like Business Bay, the Palms, Dubai Waterfront, and, more importantly, the Jebel Ali Airport — this is crucial to the future of Dubai. “There’s also enough residential supply coming onto the market at the moment for this not to be affected, and there’s enough demand to pace that supply.” The future success of Dubailand is hinged on the number of people the various attractions will draw in. These attractions range from a giant water park and a London Eye-style big wheel, to a ski dome and Dubai Sports City, which will feature four giant stadiums designed to accommodate international sporting events and academies, and, maybe one day, the Olympics Games. The overall project, which is located about 20 km from the centre of Dubai, is expected to take 15 years to finish, with the first phase scheduled for completion in 2007. “Dubailand is being described as the Disneyland of the Middle East, so we need to get construction of the accepted theme parks started as quickly as possible,” added Albert. “Although only a small number of theme parks, on a global scale, have been successful, they can be very profitable if done well.” According to Ron Hinchey, a resident partner at Cluttons, the project slowdown will pave the way for the timely construction of each phase in the development. “If a huge development like Dubailand was to be constructed all at the same time, developers would only end up competing with each other, so it makes a lot of sense to phase it,” he said. “It’s a prudent move to make. It will also help to sustain other projects and help developers keep the end-use prices up.”

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