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Sat 12 Feb 2011 12:00 AM

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Below par

Celebrity projects were expected to fail, but the real problem is yet to show itself

Below par
Tiger Woods, pictured September 2007, was named the US PGA Tour Player of the Year on Tuesday, earning the accolade from his peers for the third year in a row and the ninth time in the past 11 seasons. (AFP)
Below par

It is fair to say that 2010 was a pretty bad year for golf star Tiger Woods, and it is likely he will be hoping that the shelving of his ill-fated Dubai golf course – seemingly for good – does not set the tone for 2011.

When asked about the suspension of the $1.1billion project, Woods remained optimistic, commenting that the scheme was “still there”, and that six holes were completed before construction was halted. Sad-looking pictures showed patches of bright green grass surrounded by sand.

It has certainly not been a good week for celebrity-sponsored developments in Dubai. Our colleagues over at Arabian Business crashed tennis pro Boris Becker’s party on the sidelines of the Laureus Sports Awards, bringing up developer ACI’s equally ill-fated tower development at Business Bay – one of which was supposed to bear Becker’s name.

“It has been a couple of years ago since I was involved in that, so I do not have the latest news as to what is happening with the project,” he said.

Construction on the branded projects – three of which carried celebrity names – stalled in 2009, following the collapse of Dubai’s real-estate market.

ACI’s website still lists 11 projects that it claims are under development, with another six being undertaken by “alternate third-party developers”.

Becker is not the only star who has distanced himself from the project. Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this year, Niki Lauda said that he had only met the CEO of ACI on one occasion. “All I did was give my name to a builder in Dubai, but unfortunately they are in a mess,” Lauda said. “I have nothing to do with bringing the tower up.”

Most of us will not be surprised by the failure of projects such as the Tiger Woods golf course.

It was conceived at a very different time in Dubai’s development, and if started three years earlier it may be out there in the desert right now.

As for Becker’s tower, it is one of a number of ‘on hold’ projects at the moment, the existence of which is hardly a surprise for anyone who has lived through the last two years.

What is a surprise is actually the number of projects going ahead, and getting finished at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011.

Ocean Heights, Silverine and 2CDE are all examples of projects at various stages at Dubai Marina, while Business Bay is moving slowly, but surely, with a couple of finished projects and a couple not far off.

It is surprising because although Dubai is clearly doing better than it was a year ago, property prices continue to plummet and over-supply is at staggering levels. Dubai may continue to be a business hub, but Jumeirah Lakes Towers is still empty, as is half the Marina, and yet luxury developments continue with abandon.

If you read the press releases the story is of difference. These are high-quality developments, catering to discerning home-owners of impeccable taste.

These are set to stand out from the rest. It’s just what Dubai needs, a shot in the arm, a vote of confidence.

But oversupply? The developers do not want to hear it. They want it removed from our articles; they try to explain how their development, their tower caters to a different kind of buyer – or, more often, how their project was already sold before work started.

As if a bunch of people haemorrhaging money on flats they bought two years ago off-plan is a remedy for the market.

The point is that while the first casualties of the recession were bound to be the projects on the boards – as Woods and Becker can testify – simply getting luxury towers finished is not the final solution for Dubai.

In fact, getting them built is only the start. The real problem – illustrated by the looming empty towers of JLT – is what happens next.

Orlando Crowcroft is the Editor of Middle East Architect.

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