Dubai to build world's biggest mall ... again

A massive new development unveiled by the Ruler of Dubai is to include the world's biggest shopping mall - to beat the Dubai Mall - and more than 100 hotels.

Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping and entertainment complex, will be beaten by one planned for Mohammed Bin Rashid City. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // 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.

Yesterday's release did say that MBR City's park would be 30 per cent larger than London's Hyde Park, which is 1.4 square kilometres.

The new project is also to include the Mall of the World, touted to be even bigger than Dubai Mall. It is expected to have capacity for 80 million visitors a year, and to have 100 hotel facilities.

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".

MBR City is to be linked with Business Bay and Downtown Dubai by what the release described as a "Cultural Crossing" - an avenue that is to be populated largely by art galleries.

The project is divided into four components, with the park, hotels and Universal Studios being grouped together, followed by a retail component in the mall, and finally the art sector.

The fourth component is to be "a unique area that will provide an integrated environment for entrepreneurship and innovation in the region".

A timetable for the project is not yet available.

Yesterday's announcement drew attention to a projected 90 million passengers passing through Dubai Airport annually by 2018.

"Our development initiatives concerning infrastructure in all sectors should be aligned with this growth rate and we have the determination to reach our objectives and be the first in the region to achieve them," Sheikh Mohammed said.

Matthew Green, head of research for the Dubai office of CBRE, a commercial estate agency, said there are currently around 400 hotels in Dubai.

"As long as it is structured as a long-term project - and we have to assume that a scheme of this size would be built over the next 20 years - then we think this could be successful," he said.

"You're not just going to get 100 hotels in one go. Dubailand was already going to include a large number of hotel rooms and having Emaar on board will add to the project's reputation enormously. It is not a bad location and as long as it is planned properly there is definitely room for more housing.

"The development pipeline in Dubai has reduced massively over the past couple of years and now we are seeing demand coming back. This is an opportunity for the developers to create some quality housing."

Some, however, questioned whether there was demand for such a big project. "On one hand it is good news," said Mario Volpi, head of sales and leasing at Cluttons, an estate agency in Dubai. "We need more hotels in Dubai, especially if we win the World Expo. But 100 more sounds an awful lot.

"Similarly with the new leisure destinations, Dubai needs something like Universal Studios to drive tourism. And retail is doing well - Dubai Mall has been a tremendous success. But will this scheme also include thousands of villas?

"My initial reaction is that any new infrastructure is good but when you peel off the first couple of layers I just worry it could be too much too soon."

Craig Plumb, head of research at the property firm Jones Lang LaSalle's Dubai office, said the new plan is better positioned than the 2008 plan because of the emirate's improved tourist infrastructure.

"The key to this plan succeeding would be whether the developers can actually get the attractions to attract the number of people they are proposing. If then can bring in the sort of numbers they are talking about then yes, they will need a lot of hotels," he said.

The announcement of MBR City came only a week after Sheikh Mohammed announced a separate slate of development projects for the emirate, including a Dh2.5 billion expansion of Madinat Jumeirah, a pedestrian footbridge across Dubai Creek, a Dh390 million residential complex for Dubai Police, and the Dh1.5 billion expansion of Business Bay Canal.