There is a famous saying in Arabic – a promise is a cloud; fulfilment is rain.
After three years of promises and hype, Dubai Sports City – the world’s first integrated purpose-built sports city – is ready to deliver. And by the looks of it, it is going to rain sporting facilities in Dubai this year.
Emirates Business caught up with U Balasubramaniam, CEO of Dubai Sports City, the man in charge of turning what seemed an outlandish vision, into reality.
“This is the year of delivery,” said Balasubramaniam as he gave us a sneak peak into the year for his company. “I remember there was an article on us a couple of years ago, headlined ‘The City is Rising’. Today, you can actually say ‘The City has Risen’.”
The $3.7bn (Dh13.57bn) project was launched amid much fanfare in March 2004. When complete in 2010, the sprawling 50 million square feet promises to be a haven for sports fans and those seeking a healthier lifestyle [see box: What will be there?].
And with Dubai hoping to bid for 2020 Olympics, Dubai Sports City is all set to play a major role in the process.
The first step towards that journey begins on January 28, when world No 5 Ernie Els launches The Dunes, the stunning 18-hole golf course he designed. Way back in March 2004, Dubai Sports City announced the end of 2007 as the scheduled launch time, and they would have stuck to that deadline. The only reason for the month-long delay is because January 28 is the only available date for Els to do the honours.
Following the golf course, the cricket stadium is next in line. The superstructure of this Dh300m stadium is almost complete, and the tresses of the roof are being put up right now. The stadium is expected to come to life with an international event in October 2008.
Up next, possibly in November, comes the field hockey stadium. Also during the third quarter, the Manchester United Soccer School, which is already in its third year and boasts 720 students this year, moves to its permanent home. The ICC Global Cricket Academy, with its unique collection of pitches from across the world, starts operations in the fourth quarter.
And the pace will not slacken in 2009. David Lloyd’s tennis academy will open in the first quarter of 2009, followed by the first-ever Butch Harmon School of Golf outside the US, in the second quarter.
“This really is the most satisfying phase of our development – to see something that we have been planning and working on for so long, coming to its fruition,” said Balasubramaniam. “It was a great concept put together by the three partners – Abdul Rahim Al Zarooni, Abdulrehman Bukhatir and Abdul Rahman Falaknaz. But for all of us associated with the development, it is a sense of satisfaction and great pride as we see that vision taking concrete shape.”
And it is not just the sporting facilities that are being delivered on time. Victory Heights, the exclusive all-villa golf course community is also on track. Phase I of the project – comprising 580 villas – was sold out in less than four months when launched in March 2005. Off these, 300 villas – costing upwards of Dh2.5m to Dh11.5m – are now ready to be handed over to their owners. The rest will be ready by the end of the year, and sale of Phase II – comprising 350 villas – will begin soon after the launch of the golf course.
An avid golfer himself, Balasubramaniam is excited about the launch of Dubai’s latest golf course, built at a cost of approximately Dh55 to 60 million.
“Let me put it this way: it is a long and challenging course. The amount of undulation and the presence of pot bunkers will give The Dunes its uniqueness among the Dubai courses,” he said.
“I won’t go to the extent of saying it is the best course in Dubai, but from what I have seen and heard from the experts, I would definitely say it will easily rank in the top three.
“I will be very honest with you. Internationally, golf courses on their own have never made money. They always have a different purpose, and in this case it is a golf course community. The course is a very important feature of Victory Heights.
“We went to the market in the beginning of 2005 with the first phase of 580 villas, and we were sold out within four months. We are planning to launch the second phase, and we already have a waiting list almost 600 names long. We waited for the second phase, because we wanted investors to have a look at what we can deliver.
“We have stuck to our timing and planning. And that has enhanced our reputation in the market,” he said.
When asked what was the most difficult phase he and his team faced during these past three years, Balasubramaniam said: “In projects of this nature, and given the location, the thing that takes most time, and effort, is the horizontal base of infrastructure – the sewerage, the utilities, the connections, the road networks, etc.
“Even now, if you go to the project site, you can drive around the whole area in your car, which in itself is a great achievement, because the whole place was a desert when we started. Almost 70 per cent of the infrastructure work is done.”
Balasubramaniam is also aware of the sporting legacy that Dubai Sports City will create. “I hope we will make a positive contribution towards growth of sports in the region. I must say that such a project was possible only because all our founding partners are very passionate about sports,” he said. “Just take the cricket stadium for example. We do not have a single cricket stadium in a city where half the population is crazy about the game.
“We have a national field hockey team, comprising all Emirati players, but they do not have a proper stadium to practise.
“The outdoor and indoor stadium will be world class. And combined with the various academies, and the staging of various international events that we are already planning, I think it will be the place to be for any sports fan.”
However, Balasubramaniam insisted this is just the beginning of a long journey for Dubai Sports City.
“A lot was said about the basic concept, which I think is unique. We did our research, and there is nothing like this anywhere on the globe,” he said.
“But the success of any project of this nature is only when once it is opened and people come and see, and utilise the facilities. And if it can be called a success after that, then we will also call it successful. Until then, it is just a work in progress for us.”
DSC – AT A GLANCE
$3.7 billion - The total project cost of Dubai Sports City when complete
WHAT WILL BE THERE
– A 60,000-seater outdoor stadium
– A 25,000-seater cricket stadium
– A 10,000-seater indoor stadium
– A 5,000-seater field hockey stadium
– Championship-size Ernie Els-designed golf course
– Butch Harmon School of Golf
– David Lloyd Tennis Academy
– ICC Global Cricket Academy
– FIH Global Hockey Academy
– Manchester United Soccer School
– 1.2m sq ft sports-themed retail mall
– 980-villa golf course community
– About 100 residential towers
(Source: Dubai Sports City)
Living up to their promise