At US$1 billion and counting, the Dubai Maritime City is ahead of schedule and attracting the attention of the maritime world.
If you're building anything in Dubai the unofficial rule of thumb is that if you want your project to stand out from the crowd you need to make it either the world's first, biggest or tallest - nothing else, it seems, will do.
As the world's first purpose-built maritime centre, Dubai Maritime City (DMC) is no exception and when work is completed in 2012 DMC will add weight to Dubai's claim of being the major maritime hub of the Middle East.
The sheer scale of DMC is breathtaking. The man-made peninsula between Port Rashid and Dubai Dry Docks measures 2.27 million square metres - the equivalent of over 110 football fields - and will eventually be either the home or workplace of around 130,000 people.
The DMC project has so far cost US$1 billion and will provide the base for a multitude of maritime businesses and services, including shipping companies, law firms, ship brokers and insurers. It will also be the proud new home of the Jadaf Dubai dockyard, plus a state-of-the-art academic quarter.
Like a lot of the best projects, DMC had its roots in more humble beginnings than the development currently under construction. The initial plan was to relocate Jadaf Dubai, the ship repair and industrial marine yard, onto a small piece of reclaimed land at the mouth of Dubai Creek.
Jadaf Dubai was initially reluctant to push ahead with this as it would have needed to finance the relocation itself. The Dubai government was also unwilling to offer funding as it wanted any prospective new project to be self-financing and sustainable.
It wasn't until His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister, vice president and ruler of Dubai, proposed that more reclaimed land be sourced and a commercial area be added that the project then became financially viable.
John Ewing is DMC's chief commercial officer and has been with the project since August 2003. Ewing agrees that the numbers did not add up until the commercial area was added. "It's definitely a unique configuration," he says. "The commercial area was a just solution to help finance the industrial project."
The construction work is going well and DMC is due to open not only ahead of schedule but also on budget. The project has also been lauded for its commitment to environmental sustainability.
Furthermore, the management team insists that all private developers conform to the silver standard of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system while their own buildings will conform to an even higher standard. "Hopefully the whole city will be certified - which will be a first [for Dubai]," Ewing says.
"On a far broader scale, we want to look at the carbon footprint of the whole industry and the efforts being made by everyone to improve. When you break shipping down it is definitely one of the greenest industries, but there is still a lot to be done and DMC fully supports any positive progress in this regard."
When talking about environmental sustainability a question must also be raised about DMC's infrastructure. Adding a potential 130,000 commuters in what is already a very busy area of Dubai is going to take an awful lot of planning and coordination with the municipal authorities. Ewing agrees, but is confident that all of the infrastructure issues can be addressed.
"In addition to having ferry terminal hubs (we will be part of the ferry system), we have also incorporated plans for a light railway system that will run through DMC and connect to the main Dubai lines," he says. "We are also conducting an external traffic analysis with Dubai's Road Transport Authority to ensure an unrestricted free flow of traffic around the area."DMC is now in its final phase and although none of the towers are actually built yet there is a definite buzz within the industry. Ewing is optimistic. "There's a lot of companies with their headquarters already in Dubai," he explains.
"Especially logistics and container companies, so it could make sense for everyone to be based here [DMC]. We haven't gone to the market yet with an actual product and are just trying to raise awareness at the present time. We are in the process of building towers for offices and there are still a lot of infrastructure developments and regulatory issues to overcome, but we are still extremely confident."
Ewing also sees DMC as the final piece in the jigsaw for Dubai's booming shipping industry. "If you look at Dubai it's strong in a number of other key areas," he says. "It has the largest dry-dock in the region, actually one of the largest in the world.
In Jebel Ali it has got the largest port and free zone in the region. It's our plan to look at the management of the services side and try to create a more concentrated hub for that side of things as well."
There is no doubt that DMC is one of the most exciting maritime developments in the world and one has to wonder how much the project is going to capture the maritime industry's imagination when it finally becomes fully operational.
What makes it so attractive, however, is not just the location, but the thought of a diverse maritime community working, living and learning together. Hyperbole is almost de rigueur when discussing a project in this part of the world these days, but DMC is certainly shaping up to be one of the few projects that has the ability to fully justify the hype.
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