Dubai, United Arab Emarites — When work began in 2004 to build the world’s tallest tower, Dubai’s confidence also was sky high with a host of mega-projects on the drawing board or rising from the sands.
That swagger seems positively old school these days. It’s been tripped up by a debt crunch that has humbled Dubai’s leaders and exposed the shaky foundations of the city-state’s boom years — leaving the planned Jan. 4 opening of the iconic Burj Dubai with a double significance of hello and goodbye.
It will be both a debutante bash for a new architectural landmark and a farewell toast to Dubai’s age of excess.
The Burj Dubai — a steel-and-glass needle rising more than a half-mile — may be the last completed work from Dubai’s time of the giants. Most other of the unfinished super-projects announced in recent years, such as a second palm-shaped island or a tower to surpass the Burj Dubai, are either recession roadkill or being considered on a far smaller scale.
If they are still considered at all.
Dubai last week dropped what amounted to a financial bombshell — announcing its main government-backed development group, Dubai World, needed at least a six-month breather from creditors owed nearly $60 billion.
World markets had known a day of fiscal reckoning was creeping up on what was once the world’s fastest-growing city, swelling from about 700,000 in 1995 to more than 1.3 million today. But the depths of Dubai’s red ink seemed to surprise everyone, rattling stock exchanges from Hong Kong to New York and adding exclamation points to obits-in-progress on the death of Dubai’s golden years.
The Burj Dubai gala is now a welcome diversion. And one without a direct political sting: the building was developed by Emaar Properties, a state-backed firm not linked to the current debt meltdown.
“This tower was conceived as a monument to Dubai’s place on the international stage,” said Christopher Davidson, a professor at the University of Durham in Britain who has written extensively about the United Arab Emirates. “It’s now like a last hurrah to the boom years.”