Grand Prix a 'trigger' for capital's future

Projects including the Shahama-Saadiyat Highway and a number of new hotels were forced to meet the same deadlines as the construction of the Grand Prix.

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ABU DHABI // The strict deadlines associated with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix acted as a "trigger" to ensure that key projects in the capital were delivered to standard and on time, the chairman of the race organisers said yesterday. Khaldoon al Mubarak, the chairman of Yas Marina Circuit and chief executive of Mubadala, said projects including the Shahama-Saadiyat Highway and a number of new hotels - major improvements to the capital - were forced to meet the same deadlines as the construction of the Grand Prix.

These would produce tangible benefits to the capital, Mr al Mubarak said, adding that together with other developments, such as Masdar City and New York University, they would help Abu Dhabi reach its target of being "the future capital of the world". While admitting to having had some concern six months ago as to whether the whole project - including a 5.55km-long circuit, a marina and seven hotels - would be completed in time, Mr al Mubarak said he was now at ease.

Speaking at a panel discussion on the Yas Island project hosted by New York University Abu Dhabi last night, Mr al Mubarak said the development would be the first to change the face of the city "for years to come". "Every individual initiative contributes to the evolution of the Government's broader vision to establish Abu Dhabi as a global Arabic capital city and an international centre for business, commerce and cultural exchange.

"In the hosting of the inaugural 2009 Grand Prix, and unveiling the brand-new Yas Marina Circuit, another piece of that rapidly unfolding picture will be revealed." The creation of the new circuit, at a cost estimated to be close to US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn), would bring five particular benefits to the country, he said. One would be a source of work for young graduates, another the creation of a centre of excellence for automotive research, and a third a global base for the development of automotive technology. Other ways the country would benefit would be by diversifying its economy and, perhaps most significantly, by increasing the UAE's appeal thanks to the worldwide exposure generated by the sport, which is estimated to have 600 million television viewers.

As such, the advantages being brought by the circuit, which will also host up to eight other major motorsport events during the year, meant the Yas Marina Circuit fitted with "this Government's overarching vision for the future of the emirate," he said. In the short term, at least, the city would feel the benefits by the improved infrastructure and tourism facilities, Mr al Mubarak said. "The F1 racetrack became almost like a line in the sand," he said. "By setting November 1 as a deadline that was really unmovable, it had to be done. It had to be interlinked."

Part of the plan, he said, was to make sure everybody knew what had to be done. "We had a significant shortage of hotel rooms in Abu Dhabi - almost 5,000 rooms. By using the Grand Prix as a 'line in the sand' deadline, everybody from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to the private sector to Aldar to everybody involved with the hospitality industry knew those 5,000 rooms had to be ready by then. "Yesterday, the highway from Abu Dhabi to Shahama was opened. That is a huge initiative, the largest bridge in the UAE. That wasn't built for the racetrack or the F1, but for the city of Abu Dhabi and it was part of the evolution of the city to have that."

The motorway had to be ready, he said, as did "power, sewage, the Corniche. F1 was used as the trigger. They needed to be finished by then." Victor Matheson, an associate professor in the economy of sports from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, warned Abu Dhabi not to expect immediate financial benefits from hosting a grand prix, claiming that few major sporting events had proved to be of significant value to the host city. The benefits, he said, may instead include the positive projection of the city on a global scale.

"Here is an opportunity to expand Abu Dhabi's footprint in the world and, I mean no offence, Abu Dhabi is not on everybody's map. But this does have a large audience. "The line in the sand is a very important thing. This racetrack is an expensive line in the sand, but a line in the sand nevertheless. This is a place where you can generate significant city and national pride and entertainment for the local population."

Falah al Ahbabi, the general manager of the Urban Planning Council, said: "November 1 is one milestone of a hundred milestones that the Abu Dhabi Government is looking forward to." "We have a long list of milestones," he said. "F1 will trigger the attention of the whole world, but what's coming ahead is more than the F1. We will have the whole world coming back here and witnessing the changes in the city for years to come."

Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, said: "People are going to see a project they didn't think would be finished. They are going to see a project that not only has been finished, but has been finished with the kind of detail you would expect for this part of the world and Abu Dhabi."