Dubai: The “e” in “property” could well stand for entertainment if Dubai’s mega-developers have anything to do with it. Where else can you hope to find an Iron Man or the Hulk vying for visitor attention with various dinosaur forms dating back to the Jurassic Age? Or for that matter a Ben 10 and his innumerable alien foes? Just head for the City of Arabia.
Now, if your definition of entertainment value is defined less by superheroes and pre-historic mammals, Dubai in the not-too-distant future will still have options galore. How about a ride on the world’s largest Ferris Wheel — to be a focal point of the Dh6 billion Bluewaters development off the Jumeirah costline — to place everything in perspective?
Yes, Dubai’s developers are placing entertainment at the very core of their projects, where in the past it would have been retail or a leisure component.
“The model and structure of City of Arabia has not changed; we have now expanded towards the entertainment side to increase the offerings at Worlds of Adventure, a themed entertainment facility alongside the Mall of Arabia within the development,” said Adam Alexander Page, vice-president for marketing at IMG Group. “There had been a delay due to the downturn, however, things are back on track and we are back with a larger concept,” he added. “The model of City of Arabia is scalable — as the market changed, the needs changed leading to alterations in our project.”
If it was just the dinosaurs earlier (now renamed The Lost Valley), that scope has now been widened to cover a dedicated area featuring Marvel Entertainment’s line-up of superheroes as well as another with Turner CN Enterprises for a Cartoon Network Zone. The promoters have an eye on the $31.8 billion (Dh116.7 billion) global market for theme parks by 2017, with a sizable portion of that being driven by what is happening in Dubai and the UAE. But Craig Plumb, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle, says it is not exactly a new concept, but a remaking of one.
“This was very much the thinking behind the original plans for Dubailand the implementation of which was delayed by the global financial crises of 2008-09,” said Plumb. “Leisure and entertainment forms a key part of many of the large mixed-use projects that have been announced in Dubai over the past 12 months.
“This is a reflection of the weight attached to the hospitality and tourism sector in the long term growth of the city. With a relatively small local population [around two million], Dubai’s growth has been heavily dependent upon attracting visitors from elsewhere.”
“It is therefore not surprising that many of the major mixed-use projects are leading with their entertainment components, as these form the major anchor responsible for attracting most visitors and investor demand to the wider project.”
In City of Arabia’s case, there was a stroke of good fortune for the developers as most of the major infrastructural works were well advanced before the downturn struck. It meant that when the project was revived — the developers have tapped funding from Mashreq Bank and Al Hilal Bank — the newly developed themed entertainment concepts had the foundation to work on.
Even then there were intricacies involved. All of the entertainment options are going to be indoors. (This is the first time Marvel Entertainment has entered an IP agreement with a third-party for a themed facility.)
“The way it is designed, the construction, spaces, the elements of the [visitor] flow-through represent a completely different set up,” said Page. “We are looking at a soft opening by the end of 2013 — the exciting thing is when the park opens all of the zones, in terms of the content will open together.
“A facility of this size will create a huge amount of requirement and demand for hotels and hotel apartments, along with other retail and leisure components. Even the surrounding areas are very excited about this development.”
While noting the ballast entertainment options is providing Dubai’s developments of today, Jonathan Fothergill, Cluttons’ director of valuations, said: “I do not consider this formula to be unique to the Dubai/Gulf landscape — mixed-use projects globally are increasingly using entertainment and leisure as a key component. An illustrative example would be some of the mixed-use projects undertaken in London in preparation for last summer’s Olympic Games.
“Given the rising number of tourists and the fact that tourism is a key compound of the Dubai Government’s economic strategy moving forward, as set down in its recent 2020 vision, I’m personally not surprised that boosting the city’s entertainment options for both visitors and existing residents is a current trend at the heart of developers’ mixed use projects. This sector is arguably under-supplied, currently relative to the other real estate sectors such as offices.”