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Wed 31 Jul 2019 10:31 AM

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Where are they now? Universal Studios Dubailand

Universal Studios was set to include rides similar to those in LA, Florida and Japan

Where are they now? Universal Studios Dubailand
The designs for the Universal Studios Dubailand included many of the same rides and shows from other Universal Studios parks in Los Angeles, Florida and Japan, such as the Jurassic Park River Rapids

As part of our ongoing summer series, we will be looking back at some of the most colourful and extraordinary proposals pitched in the UAE and the wider Gulf and investigating what happened to them.

In the last few weeks, we have looked at plans for an underwater tennis stadium pitched by a Polish architect, Hollywood actor Brad Pitt’s ideas for a series of environmentally-friendly projects, a Swedish firm’s designs for a moving statue, a Chinese team’s ambitions for a technologically advanced neighbourhood in the shape of a globe, a Hong Kong designer’s idea for a heart-shaped water park containing the world’s highest water slide and a former president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia’s dream of a city with towers shaped like a chessboard.

We also looked at plans for an underwater TV studio and a crystal ball-shaped football museum in time for the 2022 World Cup, a tower in Abu Dhabi with a futuristic exterior that changes with the surrounding environment, a theme park dedicated to the classic Herbie movie franchise, a replica of the village in The Smurfs Belgian cartoon series, a tower named after Formula One driver Michael Schumacher and an environmentally-friendly hotel to be designed by Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson.

Today, we are looking at Universal Studios Dubailand.

The theme park was launched to great fanfare at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai in May 2007 (image below). "[Dubailand will] contribute to Dubai's vision to attract 15 million tourists by 2010. Of that, Universal Studios is expected to attract about 3.3 million visitors in its first year, eventually rising to five million a year," Khalid Al Malik, CEO of developer Tatweer, told Arabian Business at the time.

The designs for the park included many of the same rides and shows from other Universal Studios parks in Los Angeles, Florida and Japan, such as the Jurassic Park River Rapids, but Tom Williams, CEO, Universal Parks & Resorts said there would also be some attractions that would appeal be “suitable for people of this region".

"In particular, we have the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, as well as Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride, so that, along with other forms of street entertainment and live entertainment, will complement and enhance the overall offering of Universal Studios Dubailand," he said.

The theme park was to cover more than two million square metres and was expected to cost around $2 billion to build.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 2008, when the famous Universal Studios gate was installed at the entrance to the park’s site and the project was set to open in December 2010.

But, like many projects announced in 2008, things soon went quiet and very little beyond the famous gate appears to have been constructed.

A photo from Google Maps published by the ThemeParx.com website in 2015 also showed the site was pretty barren.

The following year, Universal Studios themselves confirmed the project was officially scrapped.

“While we are always open to opportunities in the region, we’ve stepped away from this specific project,” a media spokesperson at Universal Parks and Resorts in Orlando told the Zawya news website in October 2016.

Dubai Holding, the local partner in the project, also confirmed the project wasn’t going ahead. “Dubai Holding, the global investment holding company, confirmed today that it is no longer in discussions with Universal Parks & Resorts concerning the development of a theme park in Dubai,” the company said in a statement.

Images at the site also showed that all Universal Studios branding had been removed from the gate entrance and surrounding area.

Arabian Business has contacted Universal Parks & Resorts to see if they plan to revive the attraction or if it is talks with any other regional developers or partners for a theme park in the Middle East but, as yet, has not received any response.

Twice as big as Disney

Universal Studios Dubailand was part of a wider masterplan announced in 2003, which was to include nearly 20 separate theme park attractions on a desert site nearly twice the size of Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.

However, Universal Studios wasn’t the only big name to not go ahead. Union Properties, the developer behind Motor City, confirmed in 2013 it had scrapped plans to build a Formula One-branded theme park near the same location.

Coming up tomorrow: The Steven Gerrard Tower

Check out the other projects in the series:

Dubai’s underwater tennis stadium

Brad Pitt's eco-friendly Dubai projects

Dubai's moving statue

The Technosphere 

Dubai Heart Water Park Resort

The International Chess City

Underwater World Cup TV studio

Abu Dhabi’s Bionic Tower

The Crystal Ball Museum

The Herbie Theme Park

The Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower 

Bahrain’s Smurf Village

Pamela Anderson eco-hotel

Are there any projects from the past you would like Arabian Business to investigate? Contact us with your suggestions at shane.mcginley@itp.com

Arabian Business digital magazine: read the latest edition online

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