Air of confidence around Dubai as season changes

It is said that if you sit for one hour at the Café de la Paix, the old brasserie in the Opera district of Paris, you will meet at least three people that you know – and this is how I feel about the terrace of the DIFC.

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It’s open season at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Round about the end of October, the staff at the various cafes and restaurants that line the terrace overlooking the Gate building decide en masse to throw open the shutters that have been closed for the past six months or more to keep out the summer heat.

The result is very pleasant indeed. The atmosphere behind the big glass shutters, even though it’s efficiently air conditioned, can get stale and stuffy in the long hot months, and it’s good to have air circulating around the centre again.

Monday was still a little humid, but yesterday the temperature had dropped a few degrees and there was a pleasant fresh breeze blowing through what I always regard as the main outside thoroughfare of DIFC – the terrace area between the bridge over from Gate Village that ends up in the covered piazza with Costa Coffee on one side, Gramercy on the other and with Bateel and Al Mandaloun just around the corner.

It is said that if you sit for one hour at the Café de la Paix, the old brasserie in the Opera district of Paris, you will meet at least three people that you know, and this is how I feel about this part of the DIFC.

I was hovering around there waiting to head off to lunch with a contact in Zuma, and was just finishing a phone call when I spotted somebody I had been looking to talk to for some time.

This is an Emirati financier who is well known in the centre and in the emirate, and I’d been wanting to talk to him about the debt burden Dubai faces in the next couple of years.

There are several big maturities looming, which could add up to tens of billions of dollars in repayments and restructuring. I’d heard some talk about one in particular – I won’t name it because it’s not really at that stage yet.

My financier was happy to grab a coffee and I got a speed-date briefing on the situation.

There are some big debts to be repaid, but there is nothing like the level of anxiety there was in 2009.

The banks are better capitalised and managed, there is a bankruptcy regime in place, and the global financial situation is nowhere near as serious as it was back then.

“But yes, I have heard that one early stage restructuring is not going entirely to plan,” he said, confirming the name that I’d heard. A story for another day, I guess.

After I’d finished my chat, the weather was pleasant enough to have a stroll over to the site of the new Gate Avenue.

This is the biggest DIFC project, and probably the final piece of the property development jigsaw in the free zone. It will link the Gate building in a multimillion-dollar development of retail, leisure and commercial facil­ities virtually all the way down to the beginning of the Emaar Square district.

I’m pleased to be able to report that work is well under way, with some quite busy looking groundwork and preparation, ahead of a deadline for the first phase at the end of next year.

It was announced last week that Habtoor Leighton, an old development partner of DIFC, has got the contract for the work, so I guess that was the reason behind the spurt of activity. Expect to see big progress there in the cooler weather of the next six months.

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