Described by its developers as the Centre of Now, Downtown Dubai is one of the world’s most visited destinations, thanks to superstructures birthed through big dreams and the desire to stretch the boundaries of human capabilities. Downtown Dubai is home to arguably, the most important architectural icon of the 21st century, the Burj Khalifa, as well as a thriving cosmopolitan culture, Demola Ojo discovered recently
In a city of superlatives, Downtown Dubai stands tall; literally. Generally, Dubai has emerged as a leading global city of the 21st century and the business hub of the Persian Gulf region. It is also a major transport hub for passengers and cargo; the Dubai airport is the busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic.
Dubai’s oil revenue helped to accelerate the early development of the city, but its reserves are limited and production levels are low. Today, less than five per cent of the emirate’s revenue comes from oil. The emirate’s Western-style model of business drives its economy with the main revenues now coming from tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services.
Real estate especially, has helped Dubai command the attention of the world, helping to drive tourism through many innovative large constructions that have sprung from a land that until recently was just desert. The city has become symbolic for its skyscrapers and top on the list is the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which is the flagship of the 500-acre mega-development known as Downtown Dubai.
The Centre of Now
Back in 2002, Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, a real estate development company, came up with the idea of building one of the great urban destinations in the world from scratch. Alabbar took his blueprint to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Sheikh reportedly told Alabbar, “Think big.” Weeks later, Alabbar returned with his plans. This time, the Sheikh told him, “Build it bigger.” And so they did.
Previously known as Downtown Burj Dubai, Downtown Dubai is now a thriving city hub with a unique mix of aesthetically designed residential towers and commercial precincts that cover an area of two square kilometres. It is a cosmopolitan destination which has helped in cementing Dubai’s reputation as a truly global city. Located at its centre is Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure ever constructed by man, the Dubai Mall, which is the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination, and the Dubai Fountain, the world’s tallest performing fountain.
A centre for tourism, Downtown Dubai has several world-class hotels including the world’s first Armani Hotel and Emaar’s iconic Address Downtown Dubai.
The Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa is the centrepiece of Downtown Dubai. At 828 metres, it is the tallest man-made structure ever built. Construction began September 2004 and was completed and ready for occupancy January 2010 at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. The tower now tops an illustrious list of buildings that have held the coveted title of the world’s tallest just like the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York. The Burj smashed the 31-year-old record of the 533.33m CN Tower in Toronto that had been the world’s tallest free standing structure.
At the Top, which is on the 146th floor of Burj Khalifa, is the world’s highest observatory deck with an outdoor terrace and predictably, is one of Dubai’s most popular tourist attractions with over 1.87 million visitors in 2013. The Burj Khalifa, which has more than 1,000 residential apartments is inhabited up to the 163rd floor. The Armani Hotel is located within the Burj Khalifa.
The Dubai Mall
In terms of total area, the Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world and accommodates almost 1,200 shops in addition to numerous attractions, including an Olympic-size ice rink, an aquarium and a water zoo.
Dubai Mall opened in November 2008, with about 600 retailers, marking it as the world’s largest-ever mall opening in retail history. More than 50 per cent of all luxury goods sold in Dubai last year were purchased at the mall, with its dedicated Fashion Avenue hosting the world’s largest collection of fashion brands under one roof.
The Dubai Fountain
The Dubai Fountain is the world’s tallest performing fountain. It is illuminated by a whopping 6,600 lights, 50 projectors, and is capable of shooting water up to a staggering 490 feet accompanied by a range of classical to contemporary Arabic and world music.
The fountain stages more than 5,000 shows a year and every evening, thousands of people congregate around the shores of the Burj Lake to see the gravity-defying water display choreographed to music.
The Address Downtown Dubai
The Address Downtown Dubai is another super tall structure with 63 floors. It is the second tallest building in Downtown Dubai, the sixth tallest building in the city and the 36th tallest in the world. The five-star hotel rises 306 meters and it’s alongside the Dubai Mall, the Old Town, and the Burj Khalifa Lake. It has some of the most spectacular panoramic views of Burj Khalifa from the Zeta restaurant on the lobby floor to the Cigar Lounge on the 13th and the Neos Lounge on the 63rd added to the view from the rooms.
It has 626 beautifully furnished apartments, ranging from sleek studios to four-bedroom penthouses, all complete with the latest modern appliances.
This world-class hotel with private residences offers a rich array of lifestyle amenities including a spa, seven restaurants, and over 10,765 square feet of swimming pool space in five separate tiers.
Best Time to Visit
Dubai is notorious for its searing heat especially at the height of summer, which is in August. During the winter months, temperatures are sufficiently warm without being uncomfortable. From November to February, the temperature is generally below 30 degrees, making this period the ideal time to experience the city.
The spectacular New Year’s Eve Gala, held at the heart of Downtown Dubai, is today among the world’s most-anticipated events and is characterised by a huge fireworks display around the Burj Khalifa. The building itself is one huge display; all 163 floors of it.
The Abuja Connection
This past week, Emmar hospitality group, a subsidiary of Emmar properties launched the Address Residence to be located in the Centenary City, Abuja. “Initial development will cost about $200 million first phase,” said Emmar Chairman, Alabbar. Alabbar also sits on the board of Eagle Hills, the developers behind the Centenary City in Abuja.
Speaking further on the Centenary City which is to be built along the same lines as Downtown Dubai, Alabbar said: “As you’ve seen in the master plan of the city, we’re trying to keep majority of the area green. The central park we’re building in the city is critical for it.
“There will be different residential neighbourhoods for different levels of income and we have got three business hubs in there, large retail development and a bunch of hotels in different locations; different types, different grades. For example we’re just designing a four-star hotel now for the next phase.
“We have a golf course and golf course development with housing around it, plus of course, roads, healthcare services, education services and all other public services like fire safety and so forth,” he said.
Speaking about the motivation behind coming to invest in Nigeria, Alabbar, who also acts as a top adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the leader of Dubai said: “If you want to do business worldwide, you have to look at the size of the economy and the size of the population. Nigeria is one of the largest economies in the world and the largest in Africa.
“We are close to about a $35 billion company. We are profitable. Do we really need to run around to do projects in Nigeria? We don’t have to. But we believe we can enrich the world and enrich ourselves. And these are opportunities. Okay, the company is going to make money but we also want to come (to Nigeria) and make a change. I’m so excited to participate.
“A huge country like Nigeria needs business partners, needs decent hotels and needs beautiful neighbourhoods for people to live,” he explained.
If you are a Nigerian and you get to visit Downtown Dubai anytime soon, enjoy the city, be awed by its structures, shop till you drop (it’s duty free) and anticipate that the developers behind Downtown Dubai are coming to a city near you.