In 2013, when Dubai was awarded the coveted right to host Expo 2020, night-time fireworks erupted from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This iconic tower, which defines the city’s skyline, was a fitting place to celebrate the first location of the Expo in the Middle East. As the event inches closer, it will be joined by many new projects that will change the city forever.
Dubai is in the midst of a construction boom that is transforming the city. In 2017 alone, almost 11 billion dirham (US$2.99 billion) worth of construction contracts were awarded to the city, with another 120,000 apartments expected to come to market before the event.
The Expo, which has a theme of “connecting minds, creating the future,” is focusing on creativity, innovation, and collaboration. What’s more, it is expected to attract 25 million visitors, with 70% of them coming from outside of the United Arab Emirates.
“The Expo for me personally is an opportunity for this incredible city to display its unique qualities to the world,” says Jason Hayes, founder and CEO of Luxury Property, a high-end brokerage in Dubai. “I have never seen a city, nor indeed a country, that delivers growth and development to the standard and at the volume that Dubai achieves.”
The most highly anticipated real estate project in advance of the Expo is the Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour, a soaring observation tower that will be the tallest structure in the world. Coming in at 3,045 feet, at least, and AED3.67 billion, it is scheduled for completion by the opening of the Expo, according to Mr. Hayes. “Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s going to be stunning,” says Alexander von Sayn–Wittgenstein, luxury sales director at Luxhabitat, another high-end brokerage in Dubai. The tower will provide an observation point overlooking Dubai.
The tower is part of a larger ambitious development within a site near the Ras Al Khor area of the city, next to the UNESCO-protected Ras Al Khor Wildlife sanctuary, with its 67 species of water birds. All told, the Dubai Creek Harbour development, located about five minutes by car from downtown Dubai, will have eight million square feet of retail space, 39,000 apartments, and 22 hotels.
“The architecture of the city will be further enhanced by this new development, with each of the new apartment buildings having its own architectural merit,” Mr. Hayes says. “Owners and residents will enjoy uninterrupted views of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai skyline, all of which are further complemented by views of the creek and, of course, the new tallest building in the world.”
According to Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein, this project, among others—such as Mohammed bin Rashid City, a mixed-use development parallel to downtown and Business Bay, and Dubai Hills, a luxury development -within Mohammed bin Rashid City— “are going to change the skyline and extend the city.”
Dubai Hills, a collection of mansions in the Dubai Hills Estate master community that Mr. Hayes calls “one of the city’s finest addresses,” is also set to remake the city. It features villas in a variety of styles, ranging from modern to classic, Mediterranean to contemporary arabesque. Amenities include an 18-hole golf course, tennis center, landscaped parks, and jogging tracks. “Dubai Hills has mansions that are truly world class,” Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein says.
Mr. Hayes also mentions One Palm, an exclusive boutique collection of 90 three- to seven-bedroom homes featuring amenities such as in-home movie theaters, infinity pools, and private elevators, and a branded spa, cigar lounge, and concierge managed by The Dorchester Hotel Group, which will be developed before the Expo. The penthouses offer sweeping views of the city. The apartments will be ready in fall 2018 and range from about AED15.8 million and upward, with one of the penthouses selling last year for over AED100 million.
Another development joining the skyline in the heart of the Opera District downtown is Il Primo. The 77-story, 119-residence tower is designed for occupants to take in all the views the city has already. “This striking tower has a design that blends elements of Art Deco with the unique aesthetic of the Burj Khalifa,” Mr. Hayes says. Amenities at Il Primo include swimming pools, a gym, high-end retail, a cigar lounge, -cinema, and spa. It is slated for completion in fall 2020, with prices starting at AED15.8 million.
In addition to changing the skyline, The Address Residence Sky Views in downtown Dubai, a set of two 759–ft. towers with 531 units, will offer a spectacular view of the Burj Khalifa. The Emaar Properties project is designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the same firm that designed the Burj Khalifa. “The Address Residence Sky Views will look similar to Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, only they’re facing the tallest building in the world,” the Burj Khalifa, Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein says. Pricing starts at AED3.5 million, and it will be completed in early 2018.
Many of the projects going up in advance of the Expo boast superlatives—largest, longest, biggest, best. According to Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein, the world’s longest indoor ski slope, at three-quarters of a mile, is planned for Meydan, in the Mohammed bin Rashid City area. The biggest mall in Dubai, Meydan One, will also be in that part of the development.
Another project, The Residences on Bluewaters Island, will be next to Ain Dubai, the soon-to-be largest Ferris wheel in the world, according to Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein.
The Expo grounds themselves will drastically alter Dubai South. The 1.69-square-mile site will be centered around a dome that’s 213 ft. high and 492 ft. in diameter. Partly open to the sky, the spaces under the dome will be filled with fountains, waterfalls, parks, and courtyards. The city is also expanding its -metro to service the Expo site.
This development boom has gone hand-in-hand with a rocky time for Dubai real estate and a market that may have bottomed out. “Coming to the end of 2017, the trend of decreasing prices across the market continues as observed since their peak in mid-2014,” Paul Spargo, commercial director of Propertyfinder, wrote in a report by Luxhabitat. “There is a pervasive sense that real estate is bottoming out….Looking to 2018, price declines may continue to ebb, and transactions—especially for the middle-income segment—are expected to remain strong.”
Experts say a slowdown in completion of construction in advance of the Expo is also correcting the -marketplace for the coming year, as developers held back inventory to match the market. “Despite a high -number of planned projects in 2017, only about half of those units scheduled for completion were actually delivered by the end of the year,” says Matthew Gregory, head of property sales at dubizzle, an online classifieds platform for the region, in the same report. According to Mr. Gregory, the slowdown, combined with more sales in advance of the market, makes it less likely that the equilibrium between supply and demand in Dubai will be disturbed in 2018.
In the meantime, the city continues to grow apace. “The Expo win helped Dubai look further into the future and decide to improve its infrastructure in order to absorb the many visitors, investors, and inhabitants that are coming its way,” Mr. von Sayn-Wittgenstein says.
Locals look forward to the event, too. “It is our time to shine, and as such, a successful Expo means everything to everybody here,” Mr. Hayes says.