The Dubai village that came back from the dead

Nakheel is breathing new life into Jebel Ali Village near Ibn Battuta Mall, once a much-loved community built in 1977 to house some of the few expats in Dubai.

An abandoned supermarket in Jebel Ali Village near Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai. Paulo Vecina/The National

DUBAI // A village left abandoned and overgrown for years is being brought back to life.

Jebel Ali Village near Ibn Battuta Mall was a much-loved community built in 1977 to house some of the few expatriates who lived in Dubai at the time.

It consisted of villas with large gardens built around a hill, a mosque, a primary school, a small shopping centre and a social club.

Generations grew up there and former residents remember it warmly.

In 2007 Nakheel said it was going to redevelop the site and gave tenants a year's notice. The plan was to tear down the villas and build a new community with the same name.

The last of the village's 300 families moved out in August 2008, but the project fell victim to the property crash and was cancelled, with the villas left abandoned.

But the sounds of children's laughter, lawnmowers and Friday barbecues are to be heard again - Nakheel is refurbishing the villas.

"We are restoring one of Dubai's oldest and most treasured communities," the developer said. "Villas are in big demand. About 400 people - many of whom used to live in Jebel Ali Village before - have registered their interest."

The rents paid by former tenants were as idyllic as the gardens and the memories. Stephanie Price-Whittle, who lived in a three-bedroom villa there for more than 20 years and left in 2008, paid Dh37,000 for her final year.

Nakheel's office at Ibn Battuta Mall is now quoting Dh120,000 plus a Dh5,000 leasing fee for the same type of home, albeit refurbished.

Mrs Price-Whittle, 39, moved into the villa with her parents as a 12-year-old, took over the lease when they moved out in 1996 and then began her married life there.

She and her husband Mike now live in Arabian Ranches with their son Jason, 3.

"For me the village was special because I spent a lot of time growing up there," she said. "It was one of the few communities that had a lot of open space, there was a communal green area and it had a little pond and ducks and stuff.

"A lot of my friends lived either in apartments or in quite close, tight compounds, so Jebel Ali Village was quite different because it was just so big, there was so much space.

"There was very much a community spirit, even if you didn't know people you would recognise them so in that respect it was quite special."

The village was isolated in the years before Dubai began to spread out from its historical centre around the Creek.

"It was remote. That's what I came to like about it: the fact that it was so far out and you weren't in the centre of busy city life," Mrs Price-Whittle said.

The 2007 announcement of the redevelopment was accompanied by a computer-generated image of how the new Jebel Ali Village would have looked. The picture showed, instead of family villas in spacious gardens, a road lined with five, six and seven-storey apartment blocks.

The hill at Jebel Ali Village was the setting for a significant moment in the history of Dubai's development, as it was there that Sheikh Rashid stood and announced his plans to build Jebel Ali Port in the early 1970s.

Tenders for the villa refurbishment work were issued by Nakheel last year. The developer has adopted an unusually low-key approach - the project has not been publicised and the villas are not being advertised. The site is surrounded by a fence.

Those interested in leasing a villa can leave their contact details at Jebel Ali Recreation Club, which, like the mosque and school, remained open after the tenants left. Details can also be left at the Nakheel leasing office.

The keys to the first refurbished villas are set to be handed over to tenants in August.