Racing ahead

As the Meydan racecourse works towards its Dubai World Cup 2010 completion, Hugo Berger visits the site to see how the challenging deadline is being met.

Project leader Douglas Small is unfazed by the schedule.
Project leader Douglas Small is unfazed by the schedule.

As the Meydan racecourse works towards its Dubai World Cup 2010 completion, Hugo Berger visits the site to see how the challenging deadline is being met.

The Middle East's links to horseracing can be traced back to the origins of the sport.

All modern thoroughbred horses are descendents of three stallions - Godolphin Arabian, Darley Arabian and Byerly Turk - which were exported from the region to England in the 17th century.

Horseracing is clearly a huge part of Arabian culture.

And although Dubai is embracing the modern age, the authorities are keen not to erase links with the past.

Possibly, nowhere is this more evident than at Meydan's racecourse development at Nad Al Sheba.

Located in the shadow of the existing stadium, the new development, stretching over seven million m2, will feature a state-of-the-art synthetic track and a grandstand with a capacity for 60,000 and measuring 1km in length.

It will also feature a five-star hotel, about 10 restaurants, and several private hospitality boxes.

To promote the UAE's horseracing heritage, the project will also feature a Godolphin Gallery, the Dubai Racing Club and a racing museum.

But the stadium is only one aspect of the development.

Meydan is also constructing a huge residential complex, a business park, a 4km canal and a 10,000-space car park.

Building all of this is challenging enough, but the project must be finished in time for the 2010 Dubai World Cup.

Last week, when thousands of race-goers enjoyed the festivities at the meet, construction work on the new stadium continued unabated.

Construction Week first visited the site in October last year, when the project had just begun.

Since then, it has progressed at a staggering rate, reflecting the short amount of time the workforce has.

The grandstand, which is being carried out by a joint venture of the locally-based Arabtec and Malaysian firm WCT Engineering, is about 50% complete.

Some 5,000 piles have been laid in the grandstand and 52,000m3 of concrete has already been poured.

There are also 16 tower cranes on site, with a further two to be added shortly.

The 2,600 workers on site have already completed the first and mezzanine floors of the grandstand.

Douglas Small, head of projects, Meydan, is a straight-talking Scotsman who claims he does not feel overawed by the incredibly tight deadline.

He says: "In 2010, the World Cup is going to be held here and that is it.

"So there can be no failure. There is no point worrying about it, you gear up and you drive it.

He adds that the job was not being beset with the problems which other ones in the city were.

"We have good suppliers of concrete and steel and the contractors, Arabtec, say they are not having any difficulties getting the right amount of workers.

"It's just a job, the same as any other, it just happens to be mega.

"The main drive that we have is one of time. We get over this by setting up our schedules and programming to finish on time. It's as simple as that.

Most of the construction work is standard, but Small says that the major challenge will be the grandstand's large steel roof.

He says: "This is a massive engineering exercise.

"As it is the final cap, it is less of a problem. I don't foresee that it is anything other than a straight-forward building project - there's just a lot to do in a very short time.

The steel-structured roof will be made of cantilevers and will begin construction in the summer. It will be divided into 30-40 tonne sections and then lifted into position.

But the construction has been made even more difficult by the fact that racing will continue on the old racecourse until the 2009 Dubai World Cup.

After this, the two existing grandstands and racetrack will be demolished.

Small adds: "The point is that we have the Dubai World Classic and other races running during the construction period.

"We have to continue what we are doing without hampering the racing season.

To accommodate the racing season, 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.

A complex masterplan has been designed by Malaysian architect TAK, which takes into account all the various building and demolition work.

Sustainability is another key aspect of the project, with the car park roof being covered with solar panels which will help power the building.

Another key aspect of the project is Meydan City, which is being built on land currently occupied by the Dubai Exiles Rugby and Darjeeling Cricket clubs.

Meydan City will cover about 1.4 million m2 and consist of residential and commercial plots, waterfront promenade views and the canal, which will eventually link up with Dubai Creek.

There will also be a marina, with berthing facilities for about 80 vessels.

Earthwork recently got under way on the city and construction of the canal will soon begin.

Meydan Business Park is located 1km from the racecourse and is served by the Dubai- Al-Ain main arterial highway.

It will be a planned 269,000m2 office community comprising about 17 blocks, with a 3,400-space car park facility.

Despite all the other parts of the scheme, the racecourse will be the centre-piece of the project.

And Small says the construction team has learnt lessons from other sports stadium projects in the world.

For example, when Ascot racecourse in the UK opened its new stadium in 2006 it was beset with problems, including congestion in stairwells and some spectators claiming they could not view the track properly.

Small says: "I can't really comment on the reasons this happened, other than to say someone on the Ascot construction team messed up.

"But we have looked at what went wrong there and we are working with TAK to make sure that every spectator in every part of the stadium has a perfect view of the course.

Other sports stadiums projects in the world, perhaps most famously Wembley Stadium in London, have failed to open at the proposed deadline.

But the team on the Meydan project is adamant that the project will not fall at the same hurdles as these other schemes.

There will be challenges and problems ahead, but there is an obvious confidence that come March 2010, 60,000 spectators will be at Nad Al Sheba to cheer on the horses and jockeys.

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