Ready to reach for the sky aboard Dubai Eye
Ten years after the launch of Dubailand on the outskirts of the emirate, big-ticket tourist attractions are moving back to the city centre.
Rising visitor numbers have encouraged developers to target the city's population centres to build the next big entertainment projects.
This week, Meeras Holding announced plans to build the world's largest Ferris wheel off the coast at Jumeirah Beach Residence.
"We are definitely seeing more of the original planned Dubailand schemes moving into more central locations," said Craig Plumb, the head of research for the Middle East and North Africa at Jones Lang LaSalle, who was involved in feasibility studies for the original Dubailand scheme.
"Dubailand was intended to include a number of theme parks not dissimilar from the ones it announced last year to be developed in Jebel Ali, and now proposals for the world's largest Ferris wheel, which was originally planned to be built in Dubailand, are being brushed down and moved to JBR."
The centrepiece of the Dh6 billion (US$1.63bn) Bluewaters Island project announced this week will be the 210-metre Dubai Eye, which the developers hope will attract more than three million visitors a year.
"JBR is a much more sensible location for a giant Ferris wheel," said Mario Volpi, the head of sales and leasing at Cluttons. "The view from the top will be amazing now - Dubai's Manhattan-style skyline rather than just desert. And it will be able to attract visitors from the other emirates such as Abu Dhabi more easily too."
Construction of the Dubai Eye, which will surpass the 165-metre Singapore Flyer that was completed in 2008, is expected to start before June. The move will also pitch Dubai into competition with New York, which in September announced plans to build the world's largest Ferris wheel, a 190-metre structure on Staten Island.
The announcement follows news last November that Meraas would develop five theme parks at Jebel Ali at a total value of Dh10bn. The project will start with the Dubai Adventure Studios park, which is scheduled to be completed next year.
The Meraas announcement this week said that the Dh6bn entertainment project would also include shops, homes, hotelsand restaurants.
Mr Plumb welcomed the switch towards tourism away from the off-plan property sales that were planned for Dubailand.
"This project is playing to Dubai's strengths as a tourist location," he added. "Yes, it will cost a significant amount to build a new island at JBR and link it to the mainland, but the payoff is that you develop a more accessible, more spectacular attraction rather than having a big wheel in a housing estate in the desert."
The financial viability of large entertainment projects is being helped by surging passenger numbers through Dubai International Airport, which grew by 13.2 per cent to 57.6 million last year, up from 50.9 million in 2011. Dubai hotels also welcomed hundreds of thousands of extra guests last year.
After plummeting by as much as 75 per cent during the 2008 global financial downturn, property prices in Dubai's most popular areas have been rising steadily in recent months. According to the property agency Asteco, villa sale prices rose 23 per cent last year and apartment prices rose 14 per cent.
"If you add all these facilities to the JBR area, then it's inevitable that house prices and rents will go up," Mr Volpi said. "Obviously it depends on the world economy and it could be 10 per cent, 20 per cent or 30 per cent, but an increase would definitely be on the cards."
Dubailand was announced by the Dubai Government in October 2003 as the key element in a plan to transform the emirate into an international tourist destination.
The project was designed to cover 3 billion square feet of land, twice the area of Walt Disney World. But a decade later just a handful of the planned 45 mega projects have been built. Many others, such as the $272 million Dubai Sunny Mountain Skidome, complete with revolving ski slope, remain unbuilt.
Other developments that failed to materialise include the $200m Aqua Dunya Water Park announced in 2004. One of the largest Dubailand projects was the $3.8bn Legends theme park, promoted by Gulf Finance House, the Bahrain-based Islamic bank. The bank said in January 2005 that construction would start in the same year and the theme park would be finished by 2007. It has not progressed further.
Published: February 15, 2013 04:00 AM