Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dubai tower to open in stages

The developer building the world's tallest skyscraper says it is committed to opening the Burj Dubai by the end of the year, though a staggered rollout means only part of the silvery tower will be ready at first.

Ahmad al-Matrooshi, managing director of Emaar Properties' UAE operations, said yesterday that the opening date was being kept secret to build excitement.

But he insisted that major work was nearly complete and the tower would meet Emaar's latest deadline to inaugurate the building by the end of December.

"The building is ready. It's a matter of a few items," he said.

Burj Dubai, Arabic for "Dubai Tower", stands more than 800m tall. Emaar finished covering the building's facade just last week.

It has yet to confirm the tower's final height.

Al-Matrooshi declined to say how much of the building would be ready to go on opening day. He said the tower would be opened in phases to ensure smooth operation.

"See, you cannot just open a building like this," he said. "There are a lot of operational issues that should be ready. We cannot compromise the quality of the building."

Meanwhile, work on another highly anticipated skyscraper in the struggling Arab boomtown - a gleaming luxury hotel by Donald Trump meant as a centrepiece for Dubai's original palm-shaped island - looks likely to remain on hold.

Donald Trump jnr, executive vice-president of the Trump Organisation, said he would like to see work on the Trump International Hotel & Tower get under way in two years, but acknowledged "it's going to take some time" for the project to be restarted.

"When it makes sense, we want to go forward with it," Trump said. "I wouldn't say it's going to happen any time soon."

The Trump hotel is being built by Dubai state-owned developer Nakheel. It stopped work on the glass-clad structure and numerous other projects, including some of its signature man-made islands, over the past year as property prices plummeted and cash dried up.

The executives spoke during the first day of Dubai's Cityscape property expo, traditionally one of the highlights of the sheikdom's business calendar.

Thin crowds and toned-down exhibits - at least by Dubai's over-the-top standards - left the event far quieter than in years past, reflecting a crippling slowdown in Dubai's once white-hot property market.

Home prices have plunged by half from their peak less than a year earlier, according to a widely watched index of Dubai property prices released in August.

Hundreds of multimillion-dollar projects have been put on hold as speculators who made easy cash flipping properties disappeared and builders struggled to secure financing for projects - even those already well under way.

Exhibitors at this year's expo were taking an uncharacteristically cautious approach to the show.

Gone were the celebrity cameos and eye-popping project launches of years past, replaced instead by assurances from struggling developers that they could deliver on their promises.

"Committed to delivery" was the slogan touted by one builder at this year's show.

Organisers say exhibitors are taking up nearly a third less space than they did last year, and expect attendance to drop by 20 per cent.

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