The largest shopping mall in the world; 35 towers from 45-70-storeys high; and a dinosaur theme park featuring 35 animatronic species; even by Dubai standards the Galadari brothers' City of Arabia, part of the Dubailand theme park, is a challenging project.
Later this month the City of Arabia will be rolled-out, the latest Dubai mega project, and a key element of the multi-billion dollar Dubailand theme park, Dubai's upcoming answer to Disneyland for the Middle East.
Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari, scions of the famous Dubai family, have taken on this massive development with completion slated for 2008. But what appears an impossibly ambitious scheme is actually a far more realistic business proposition on closer inspection.
For Dubailand the Dubai Development and Investment Authority has adopted a unique public-private partnership business model – which is actually a more complex version of the traditional Dubai technique of business expansion, namely you go to the ruler and ask for a piece of land to develop.
In this case the DDIA established the framework of the project first, and then the land deal was negotiated with Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari. Nobody knows how much was paid for the land, but the development model is clear enough.
The next step is for the Galadari brothers to sell on most of the land plots for developing the towers to investors. The clever part is that the land is worth much more as a part of an active development project than pure desert outside Dubai. Thus the Galadaris will net sufficient funds to at least partly offset the construction cost of the giant mall which is linked to a dinosaur theme park.
In today's hot property market selling off land for apartment and commercial towers is not hard in Dubai, and this has already been largely concluded, so the project is not just a concept but a live development.
The next challenge is to convince lease more than 1,000 retail units in the world's largest shopping mall. This is more difficult as Dubai has three large mall projects running ahead of the Mall of Arabia; namely the Ibn Buttuta mall which opened last week; the Mall of the Emirates that opens in September; and the Dubai Mall expected to open in late 2007.
But again the integrated nature of the City of Arabia is rather clever. The 35 high-rise towers provide a veritable mini-city of 45,000 affluent shoppers with a mono-rail system that will take them into the mall in air-conditioned comfort. The mall therefore has its own captive market.
There is more, of course. The dinosaur theme park is expected to be a major tourist attraction. You don't spend several hundred million dollars on the latest in animatronic dinosaurs just for the fun of it.
The only way into the dinosaur park will be through the shopping mall, hence the additional footfall of tourists should be guaranteed. In addition, the mall will offer a 15-screen cinema and five-star hotel, making it an entertainment and leisure destination.
So if you ask, 'how can a project like this possibly succeed?' Then there are some very good answers. Of course, you still have to make some powerful assumptions about the growth of the Dubai population and growth in tourism, but the City of Arabia is much more than a mirage in the Dubai desert.