Dubailand takes shape

Dubailand represents dizzying new heights in fantasy environment development.

ANALYSIS, Projects

Construction Week visits the construction site of the world's largest theme park.

Launched in October 2003 as a member of Tatweer, Dubailand represents dizzying new heights in fantasy environment development.


Dubailand is well served by three main roads and we [continue] to work with the RTA. We are not worried about traffic flow?

Covering an area of 278 million m2 and comprising significant attraction-based experiences, including 23 mega projects, Dubailand will be the world's most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment destination.

Operating under the motto 'the fun is building in Dubailand', its diverse projects range from theme parks to shopping malls; restaurants to residential units, and include Dubai Sports City, Motor City and City of Arabia.

Three mega projects - Dreamworks Animation Parks, the Little Big Club from Hit entertainment at Global Village and Six Flags Theme Park - were launched earlier this year, and total investment in Dubailand is currently running at US $88.4 billion (AED325 billion), a 38% increase on the previous amount of $63.9 billion.

The project is so huge that one commentator has referred to it as 'bursting with architectural steroids'.

The development will be more than twice the size of Disney World, and is expected to attract 40,000 visitors per day, which will contribute to Dubai's vision of attracting 15 million visitors a year by 2015.

On completion of all projects, Dubailand estimates that it will host a population of 2.5 million people, including workers and residents.

In Dubailand, a series of projects will include replicas of world landmarks such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Taj Mahal, all located in the Falcon City of Wonders.

This cultural district will be spread over an area of 4 million m2 and will be shaped like a falcon, to represent the UAE's cultural legacy.

It will also include a Pharaoh theme park, complete with 'Egyptian' white-knuckle rides.

The City of Arabia at the heart of Dubailand boldly mixes fantasy and reality, combining a prehistoric playground entitled Restless Planet with one of the world's largest malls.

According to the finance director of the Natural History Museum, the dinosaurs used will have 'the full stamp of authority of the Museum in London, and will demonstrate that education and science can be fun'.

They will also demonstrate the compatibility of the prehistorical and the profitable, since the only way into the dinosaur park will be through the shopping mall.

Entering the theme park plays out like a scene from Jurassic Park: the faux rock entrance bears the name 'Dubailand' in huge green letters, a series of Land Cruisers line up to take visitors on a guided tour and giant model dinosaurs greet guests at the entrance.

But a project of such scale is naturally going to be up against the challenges currently permeating the regional construction industry: labour and materials shortages, along with infrastructural problems.

Yet the project's CEO Mohammed Alhabbai is confident that many of the attractions will be operational by 2010, with the entire development completed by 2020.

He says that there will be zero-tolerance on delays. "We want to go ahead as planned and will not entertain companies that delay the start of construction work," he said.

If there is a need, we will do it ourselves. The first phase will launch on 10 December, 2010. We will have key projects operating by this time. And the entire project will be completed by 2020.

Alhabbai pointed out that several key projects were already operational, including the Autodrome in Motor City, Polo & Equestrian Club, Outlet Mall in Outlet City, Global Village, Al Sahra Desert Resort and the Ernie Else Golf Club at the Dubai Sports City.

"Dubailand is comparable with Singapore in size and of course a project of this scope will present challenges", says Alhabbai.

"But six projects are already up and running. Big projects like Motor City will be fully operational next year, and City of Arabia by 2010."

Motor City will house a karting track, a Race & Drive centre, a Green Community residential area and a Business Park.

It will include the world's first Formula One theme park, although Alhabbai acknowledged that the site would not be used as part of the F1 official racing circuit.

"Abu Dhabi has got the Grand Prix, and Formula One will not be looking to hold it in Dubai," he says.

Dubailand's ambitious projects include Dubai Sports City, a 4.6 million m2 destination that will incorporate world-class sporting venues and sports academies, including the Manchester United Soccer School and the International Cricket Council Global Cricket Academy; the first of its kind in the world.

This entire development is set for completion by 2010.

"We have already opened the Ernie Els Club and the Cricket Academy will be opened at the end of this year," says Sports City president Khalid Abdulrahim Al Zarooni.

"We are confident about the timeframe and about the project's world appeal. We are currently looking for major sporting events to hold here and are in touch with government bodies over proposals. We will reveal a calendar of events by the end of this year. It is important that we stick to our timeframe in order to successfully bid for these events."

The City of Arabia is also progressing well. Developers say that work is on schedule.

Eighty five per cent of the mall outlets have now been leased and 55% of contracts have been signed.

It is estimated that the first phase of Wadi Walk, a Mediterranean style residential and commercial district, will be completed by the first quarter of 2009. Alhabbai hopes that this kind of housing will appeal to the vast number of European families moving to Dubai.

The area will include plenty of shaded areas, greenery, coffee shops, and will be linked to the Dubai Metro project.

A spokesperson for the neighbouring Restless Planet project told Construction Week: "The soil work and earthwork have been completed and irrigation is highly advanced. Telecom and water works are coming along. We have our own batching plant onsite for concrete, which minimalises delays."

Dubailand will also include the Universal City. Located in an area of 2.4 million m2, the project will include hotels, retail, residential and commercial components, and will be home to Universal Studios Dubailand, a world-class theme park facility that will showcase movie-themed rides, shows, characters and attractions.

Universal Studios secured its park with a 10-metre high berm to facilitate visual exclusion and a 3.5 hectare by 4 metre lagoon, which is currently being constructed.

The project hopes to attract 4 million visitors per year.

Observers have argued that the infrastructure will be unable to cope with such large numbers of guests.

But Pierre Y Paquette, project director at PB Middle East Limited, disagrees.

"We have a huge car park, and an entrance from Al Ain Road. The flow of traffic has been taken care of. The situation will be monitored and you won't see long lines of traffic," he says.

Rushing to dispel rumours of infrastructural problems, Sports City CEO U. Balasubramaniam, also says: "We have a self-contained infrastructure here that is well served by access roads. The plans are coherent - we wouldn't risk gridlock."

Equally quick to dismiss critics of the project's infrastructure, CEO Alhabbai adds: "Dubailand is well served by three main roads and we are continuing to work with the RTA. We are not worried about traffic flow. We will also be encouraging visitors to use the metro line that will connect the two airports. In addition, we will have buses, a tram and a monorail at our disposal."

But with all of this extra transport being provided, and the enormous scale of the project, can the developers justify this level of expansion with no way of offsetting its carbon emissions?

"We are working very closely with the authorities," Alhabbai says, but declined to detail any specific policy initiatives.

And finally, with temperatures already soaring, can management ensure that the thousands of construction workers building Dubailand will stay healthy?

"We will continue to follow the standards to ensure that working conditions are upheld," Alhabbai says.

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