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Sat 9 Oct 2010 04:00 AM

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Back to the future

The headlines are retro, but are the numbers there to match?

Back to the future

This week we turned back time. It all started with the arrival of a Cityscape press release. I read a headline that started ‘iconic projects and world-class lifestyles’, then it suddenly felt like 2007 all over again.

In four years of living in this region I have come to loathe the word iconic. It long ago lost any sense of real meaning because of its vigorous over use by ambitious and deluded property developers – an office complex in a free zone is not ‘iconic’. And yet, in these more austere and financially strained times, there are still developers using the word as if nothing has changed.

Admittedly the culprit was Emaar, the one company that has actually delivered an icon recently and whose chairman, Mohammed Alabbar, subsequently earned top spot in our Power 100, just the other week. But for others at the rebranded Cityscape Global there is no excuse.

There was a time when the Cityscape-branded events that concentrated on the UAE were seen as essential shows for everyone in the industry. They were part real estate-fair, with queues of paying punters ready to buy just about anything off-plan, and part design-fair, with endless detailed models of the bright, cleverly designed and record-breaking future to come. But that time has passed.

The rebranded Dubai edition is pitched as a global affair. It’s a smart move, aligning the show with the ‘regional-hub’ mantra the emirate has always used to describe itself.

Organisers believed that Cityscape could harness Dubai’s talents as a centre for the world’s construction, architecture and property trade, as well as  making connections with developers and investors. The idea was to focus on presenting emerging markets to Middle East-based investors, and linking up designers, contractors and architects with developers from China and elsewhere in Asia.

So, on the whole, a more business-like air has settled on the event, although the author of the press release I mentioned apparently didn’t get the memo. Words like transparency, delivery and completion should have thoroughly replaced the hyperbole of biggest, tallest and longest.

Before the event opened, organisers were hoping the 38,000 confirmed trade visitors would march through the doors to visit the 200 or so exhibitors. While things seemed relatively low key, commentators have noted a renewed confidence in Dubai among international investors.

The new sovereign bond issue was four times oversubscribed, which means the government will raise in the region of $1.25 billion. The $23.5 billion restructuring of Dubai World’s debts is coming to a conclusion, too. Added to that has been hints of a gradual restart of projects, such as portions of Nakheel’s Al Furjan.

While these small signs will be heartily welcomed by an industry that has been holding out for some good news, it’s not quite 2007 again yet. So for now we’ll hold the headlines and maybe by next year’s Cityscape Global the future will look more like the past.

Stuart Matthews is the senior group editor of ITP Business' construction & design tiles.

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