Launched in 2005, Falconcity of Wonders was one of the most ambitious of the mega real estate projects that epitomised Dubai’s pre-financial crisis boom years.
Set out in the emirate’s desert landscape, the 40m sqft development was to boast life-size replicas of world landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids, as well as districts modelled around cities including London, Venice and Beirut. It was also to include a theme park, hotels and a 1m sqft copy of New York’s Central Park.
Fast forward to 2013, though, and the only wonder is how after eight years of development the only work that appears to be completed on the project is 300 or so villas, a sewerage plant and an electricity substation. The latest timeframe from the company says it will take another seven to ten years to finish entirely.
Falconcity chairman Salem Al Moosa insists that despite sluggish progress, he has no intention to scale down the project though, and will launch sales of a further 100 villas this month. Al Moosa says he has the funds to complete the project, with the cash coming from a combination of his own pocket and investors and without the involvement of banks.
“People think that this project is not working, people think that this project doesn’t exist. People are using all kind of rumours against us,” he claims. “We’re being faced with a vicious attack by people – I don’t know why.”
So far, Falconcity has completed 366 villas, of which 306 are now occupied. A further 214 villas and a community centre are under construction and set for completion in 2014. Of the new villas, 100 have already been sold to buyers, although the company admits that the last of these sales were made back in 2009.
Work is also set to begin on some of Falconcity’s more iconic features, Al Moosa says, with many of the project’s ‘Wonders’ concepts now sold off to sub developers. The company building the Taj Mahal clone is currently awaiting a permit from Dubai Municipality to start work, while districts themed around destinations including Paris, London and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are all now in the hands of sub developers. He expects construction to start on these next year.
“These cities have all been sold, except City of Beirut, on which we’re negotiating, and City of Dubai,” Al Moosa says. “These are multi-purpose buildings, with retail, commercial, entertainment [aspects].”
Al Moosa blames the long delays in the project, which lies off Sheikh Mohammed Road and is shaped like a falcon, on over-running infrastructure works and the financial crisis, which weakened demand in Dubai’s housing market, causing prices to plunge by as much as 65 percent.
“We had to do the infrastructure before everything else, which took most of the time. Infrastructure is not an easy thing to do,” he says. “Our plan was to build it in two years, but it took more than two years. Why? Because there is external infrastructure that we were supposed to get, but we did not get - so we had to change to Plan B.”
Al Moosa says that Falconcity has spent approximately AED600m on infrastructure works as a result of the project’s isolated location in Dubai’s outskirts, including irrigation, an electricity substation and roads.
“We’re not living on Jumeirah Road – public roads don’t come to my project,” he explains, contrasting Falconcity with more centrally-located developments.
Parts of the project were also put on hold between 2006 and 2009 after Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) asked Falconcity to conduct traffic impact studies. “Most of my projects were frozen due to the fact that I don’t have a green light from the RTA,” Al Moosa says. “I removed all of the frozen areas with heart, good work and a lot of money spent.”
The project was also hindered after one of Falconcity’s contractors went bankrupt during construction. When Falconcity launched in 2005, an initial feasibility study placed the total cost at AED1.5bn. More recent forecasts have well exceeded this amount, but Al Moosa is reluctant to put a price on Falconcity. “Is it $12bn? $15bn? I don’t know,” he says.
With the number of visitors to Dubai continuing to rise each year, Al Moosa says Falconcity will be well-positioned to capitalise on the emirate’s growing status as one the world’s top tourism destinations when it is completed. Whenever that is.
“One day it will be one of the best tourist, commercial and entertainment projects in the whole world,” believes Al Moosa. “I’m not just talking about Dubai, I’m not just talking about the emirates. Las Vegas is not like this. We’re talking about something beyond imagination.”
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