Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Dubai, no mall is big enough

Has Dubai learned its lesson from its economic meltdown? When they announce stuff like this, I can't help but wonder:
After years of downsized ambitions because of a debt crisis, Dubai has unveiled plans for a new tourism-retail hub that will include a shopping complex that would outclass the Dubai Mall, billed as the world's biggest.

State news agency WAM says the planned development on the city's desert outskirts will include luxury hotels and a major theme park, a goal derailed by Dubai's fiscal meltdown in 2009.
No timetable was announced Sunday for the Mohammed Bin Rashid City.
Of all the things Dubai needs right now, I honestly don't think "another giant mall" is one of them. Between Deira City Centre, the Burjuman, Ibn Battuta Mall, Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall, Dubai has the "massive mall" thing pretty well covered. But apparently Sheikh Mohammed doesn't think so:
A massive new development unveiled yesterday by the Ruler of Dubai is to include the world's biggest shopping mall and more than 100 hotels.

Mohammed Bin Rashid City, which is also to encompass sprawling parkland, was announced yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and comes amid a resurgence in the emirate's economy.

"The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city," Sheikh Mohammed said.

The development - a joint venture between Emaar Properties and Dubai Holding - is to be located between Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road.

MBR City represents a revival of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens project, first announced in 2008. The 2008 masterplan had suggested the Gardens project would cover 74 square kilometres, and cost $60bn (Dh220bn). It is not yet clear how closely the new plan is based on that.
 Plan for Mohammed bin Rashid City. (source: The National)
"Between Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road" isn't the most helpful description of this proposed development's location because these three roads generally run parallel to each other. But upon closer inspection of the pictures accompanying The National article, it looks like MBR City will occupy the currently-empty space bounded by Al Barsha, Al Quoz, Nad Al Sheba and what currently exists of Dubailand. Reading between the lines, in fact, makes me think that this project is intended to replace that stagnated development:
The Mall of the World is to be partly developed by Universal Studios. Under the 2008 plan, a Universal Studios theme park was to be situated in the proposed Dubailand theme park, but that project has been on hold. It is not yet clear whether the original plan will now be incorporated within the mall.

The original plan for Dubailand included a golf course called The Tiger Woods, in partnership with the famous golfer.

Although that has stalled, yesterday's statement said MBR City would include "a number of golf courses under well-known international names".
While I'm glad that Dubai's economy is finally on the mend, this development, with the world's biggest mall, 100 hotels and multiple golf courses, seems eerily reminiscent of the speculative and superlative ("World's biggest this!" "World's tallest that!") development frenzy that got Dubai into so much trouble in 2008. Dubai's rulers and developers would do well to avoid repeating that frenzy, because as Alexander McNabb explained a couple of weeks ago, it was in fact a nightmare. He notes:
Through the recession, Dubai has slowly but surely been investing in the infrastructure it was ramping up to try and meet the demands of the boom. It's in better shape now than ever it was to encompass expansion and growth with confidence and a new maturity.

The million dollar question is whether we, collectively, have learned our lesson. Whether we can build for the future without being pitched back into the nightmare of the boom.
In the case of MBR City, it's actually a sixty billion dollar question. Stay tuned.

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