The inside track

The Meydan Racecourse project is in a race against time to complete before the 2010 World Cup.

At the gallop: the new Meydan Racecourse site will incorporate a state-of-the-art dirt and turf track, a 1km-long grandstand with a capacity of 60,000
At the gallop: the new Meydan Racecourse site will incorporate a state-of-the-art dirt and turf track, a 1km-long grandstand with a capacity of 60,000

It is a truism that the Arab world holds a special affinity with horses and horse racing. The Dubai World Cup, held at Nad Al Sheba, is internationally renowned as the world's most lucrative race, with a purse of US $6 million (AED 22 million). Now, in line with progression sweeping across the emirate, the racecourse is to undergo a major revamp, becoming part of a massive, mixed-use development incorporating Meydan Racecourse, Meydan City and Meydan Business Park.

Located in the shadow of the existing racecourse, the new development, spanning seven million m2 will feature a state-of-the-art dirt and turf track and a grandstand with a capacity of 60,000 which will measure an impressive 1km in length. It will also feature a five-star hotel, more than 10 restaurants, several private hospitality boxes, the new home of the Godolphin Gallery, the Dubai Racing Club, a racing museum and parking for approximately 10,000 cars. The design also incorporates a 4km canal, which will run from Dubai Creek and will offer racegoers an opportunity to arrive by boat to the racecourse, which will feature a marina and a boathouse.

The first phase contract for the construction of the grandstand, which includes the 400-room hotel and Godolphin Gallery, was recently awarded to a joint venture of Arabtec and Malaysian firm WCT Engineering for $1.3 billion. According to Douglas Small, head of projects, Dubai Racing Club, the tender for the second phase, which includes the 10,000 car parking space, has just gone out to tender, and he hopes to have these back by mid-November.

Small adds that, to get up to speed in the shortest possible time, a number of other key contracts are being put out to tender currently, including one for the cooling plant and infrastructure. The issue, however, is that the time constraints being placed on the project are a direct result of conforming to the racing schedule. "The problem is that we have got to finish in two years, so all this stuff has to be set up and ready to go," he says. "It's intensive because we have said the 2010 World Cup will be in a new stadium; but that entails moving a lot of facilities as well, so everything is on fast-track."

Small is adamant, however, that this deadline, while challenging, will be met. "You get an end date and work backwards from there. Once you are at that point, you drive it forward."

This has been exacerbated by the fact that the racing season is to continue at Nad Al Sheba during the construction programme. "The point is that we have to run the Dubai World Classic and the racing season during the construction period, and that is a lot of racing. We have to run that perfectly; it isn't going to stop," explains Small.

With the new racing season scheduled to start on 8 November, Small's team has had to build a new, temporary car park capable of hosting 10,000 cars as well as re-route Muscat road, which is being diverted to make space for the new car park that is being built as part of the project (and is what comprises the distinctive falcon shape of the development). Initially, a temporary road will be laid, before the permanent surface is laid at a later date.

Small explains just how logistically challenging the task is, and how accurate the team must be to ensure success, as the team will have to knock down the two existing grandstands, but only after the World Cup in 2009 has finished in March. "So you can only imagine the intricacy in programming and scheduling to get this done," he explains. "Part of this can be organised and partially built, but part must wait until 2009 before we can build the rest of the track." A nursery has already been contracted out to ensure the turf is ready to be replaced as and when required.

On the construction of the grandstand, Small says: "The thing is, it is being done in such a short space of time, and it is so spread out - we will have about 20 cranes. It may be only 10 storeys, but it is incredibly intricate.

"That is the main construction, but there is a lot of work to be done on the car park as well, but hopefully we can pre-fabricate some of that." The masterplan - designed by Malaysian architect TAK - lends itself to a very organised approach, with inter-relationships between sections enabling pre-fabrication work, adds Small.

For the development, Arabtec is currently in the process of building a new labour camp to accommodate the 5,000 labourers that will be required to work on the various phases of the project. It is being assembled using pre-fabricated components, which enable rapid assembly in the shortest possible time.

Sustainability has been mooted as a main element of this project, but when talking to Construction Week, Small remained guarded over the finer details, as the figures were still being analysed. He did say that solar power - for power and air conditioning - was being considered, with the large acreage of roof-space that will comprise the car park lending itself to such a technology. "This is the message being given from the top, and it is the way architecture is going," he adds.

Another key aspect of the project, Meydan City, is to be built on land currently occupied by the Dubai Exiles Rugby and Darjeeling Cricket clubs. Conceived as a phased development, Meydan City will cover 1.4 million m2 consisting of commercial and residential plots, retail outlets and arcades with canal, waterfront and promenade views -supplied by the creek extension that will run through the city. Meydan marina will further capitalise on the creek presence, with berthing facilities for approximately 80 yachts and boats. Earth works are already underway in this location and will accelerate following the conclusion of this year's Dubai Rugby Seven's tournament, which is held annually at the Exiles Club.

According to Small, the design of the city is being closely monitored, with no tower higher than 70 storeys, and has benefited from an in-depth masterplan. "It has been 3D masterplanned and has been looked at from a build-up point of view and is very organised and thought out. Everybody thinks open spaces just happen - they don't, it has to be designed."

While not confirmed as yet, it is hoped that the purple line of the Dubai Metro, which runs close to the projects, will link up with the development. Furthermore, a tram system is being considered to link up Meydan Racecourse with the city and business park. Small says he has spoken to various companies, including one in Bordeaux, to assess their viability.

Meydan Business Park is located just 1km from Meydan Racecourse and is served by the Dubai- Al-Ain main arterial highway. It will be a planned 269,000m2 office community comprising 17 blocks, with a 3,400-space car park facility. It was announced earlier this month that the first phase of the business park has been purchased by Amlak Finance for $708 million. The business park, like the racecourse and city, is being designed by TAK.

But, for now, the primary concern of the Meydan team is to ensure that, come March 2010, when the horses line up to compete for racing's richest prize (believed to be increasing from $6million to $10million) they are running on a brand-new track, in the shadow of a 1km-long grandstand and with 60,000 people cheering them on.

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