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Sat 25 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Abu Dhabi gets ready to step out of shadow cast by Dubai

When it comes to grandiose construction projects, Abu Dhabi has long been eclipsed by neighbouring Dubai. But this could be about to change, as the UAE’s largest emirate attracts a growing number of tourists fuelled by the recent success of Etihad Airways. Has the time finally come for Dubai to hand over the construction crown? CW reports.

|~||~||~|After a decade of living in Dubai’s shadow, Abu Dhabi — the UAE’s largest emirate — is now developing its own projects that look set to challenge its smaller neighbour to the north.

Last week a freehold property sold out in 45 minutes, proof that the emirate has a burgeoning real estate market. Realising this, developers have begun to develop their portfolios, and with a new federal law allowing the sale of freehold property to expatriates expected later this year many in the sector are predicting a rosy future.

One developer already capitalising on this optimism is Aldar, which has already launched a number of major projects including the Al Raha Beach, Central Market and a new headquarters building in Al Muroor.

The US $14.71 billion (AED54 billion) Al Raha Beach takes inspiration from capital cities with extensive water frontage, and will occupy an area of 6.8 million m2 along the Abu Dhabi to Dubai highway. The total built area will be 12 million m2 made up of 60-storey high-rises, down to low-rise developments at the water’s edge.

The city is being planned for an eventual population of 120 000 inhabitants and will be integrated with Khalifa Town ‘A’ by road and related transport links, as well as the recently completed Al Raha Beach Hotel. According to an Aldar official: “The underlying theme of the development will be to enhance Abu Dhabi’s natural wealth of water and beach frontage.”

Another feature of the development is that it will offer a water taxi service connecting all parts of Abu Dhabi’s existing main island, as well as outlying islands such as Saadiyat and the airport, thus creating a new form of urban transport for the city.

Tourism is another key sector that the emirate has identified for growth. So far, much of this development is being driven by an anticipated surge in visitors to the emirate, while the recent success of Etihad Airways has shown that Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a regional and international destination.

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is acting as a catalyst to drive this growth and develop the emirate’s tourism infrastructure, facilities and services. Among the authorities’ plans are tourism zones with many additional hotels and leisure facilities. Moves are underway to add another 20 000 hotel rooms over the next 10 years to the present 7500 rooms in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

It is understood that there are also plans to develop Abu Dhabi’s many natural islands as tourism spots. One such project is on Abu Al Shuoom island; it is said to be called the Emirates Pearl and will cost US $9.5 billion to develop. The entire project will sprawl across 5 million m² and will include a luxury hotel, hospitals, university and family entertainment facilities.

In order to accommodate this expected influx of visitors, a second terminal is currently being added to the existing airport to help reduce the pressure on the terminal building until the new airport is built.

The new airport was awarded last year, but with the increased demand of passenger numbers generated by the expansion of Etihad Airways, it was decided to redesign the facility and make do temporarily by adding a second terminal to the existing airport. The second terminal will be operational later this year, and by 2008 will have the capacity to handle 8 million passengers annually, after which a new airport will be built, according to a top Abu Dhabi official.

The project is being executed on a fast-track contract undertaken by Al Jaber Grinaker-LTA, and will be ready by August this year. Other transport plans are also on the drawing board. A pan-UAE rail network has been considered and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed with Germany’s Dornier Consulting for the project.

Under the terms of the MoU, Dornier will investigate and conduct feasibility studies on how to link the UAE with the neighbouring GCC countries. The feasibility report will form the basis of a master plan that will produce a more structured and detailed plan on how to construct a railway system to supplement the UAE’s existing road network. The project may also link up to a larger network that will connect the six GCC countries.

If the rail network does link up the GCC states, then it may utilise the planned 300 km causeway gap between Qatar and Abu Dhabi. Earlier this year, the two governments agreed to set up a joint venture firm that will begin feasibility studies on the ambitious project to bridge the open sea between the two nations.

Engineers advising both governments say that because the Gulf is a relatively shallow body of water, the construction of a causeway is perfectly feasible. Once complete, the causeway will be the longest in the world and could cost over US $10 billion to build.

With more project announcements expected before the year-end, Abu Dhabi is set to become the next big construction story in the region.||**||

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