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Tallest building in Dubai named after bailout patron

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP):

Dubai opened the world's tallest skyscraper Monday and, in a surprise move, renamed the gleaming glass-and-metal tower Burj Khalifa in a nod to the leader of neighbouring Abu Dhabi - the oil-rich sheikdom which came to its rescue during the financial meltdown.

A lavish presentation witnessed by Dubai's ruler and thousands of onlookers at the base of the tower said the building was 828 metres (or 2,717 feet) tall.

Dubai is opening the tower in the midst of a deep financial crisis. Its oil-rich neighbour, Abu Dhabi, has pumped billions of dollars in bailout funds into the emirate as it struggles to pay its debts.

Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and serves as the president of the United Arab Emirates, the federation of seven small emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Close relationship

Analysts have questioned what Dubai might need to offer in exchange for the financial support it has received from Abu Dhabi, which controls nearly all of the UAE's oil wealth. Abu Dhabi provided direct and indirect injections totalling US$25 billion last year as Dubai's debt problems deepened.

Dubai's hereditary ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in recent months has increasingly underscored the close relationship between the two emirates. Sheik Mohammed serves as vice-president and prime minister of the UAE federation.

The developer of the newly opened tower said it cost about US$1.5 billion to build the tapering metal-and-glass spire, billed as a 'vertical city' of luxury apartments and offices.

It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

The Burj's developers say they are confident in the safety of the tower, which is more than twice the height of New York's Empire State Building's roof.

Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects, said the Burj has "refuge floors" at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency.

And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.

"It's a lot more robust," he said. "A plane won't be able to slice through the Burj like it did through the steel columns of the World Trade Center."

Commercial hub

Dubai was little more than a sleepy fishing village a generation ago, but it boomed into the Middle East's commercial hub over the past two decades on the back of business-friendly trading policies, relative security and vast amounts of overseas investment.

Then property prices in parts of the sheikdom collapsed by nearly half over the past year. Now, Dubai is mired in debt and many buildings sit largely empty - the result of overbuilding during a property bubble that has since burst.

Despite the past year of hardships, the tower's developer and other officials were in a festive mood, trying to bring the world's focus on Dubai's future potential rather than past mistakes.

"Crises come and go. And cities move on," Mohammed Alabbar, chairman of the tower's developer Emaar Properties, told reporters before the inauguration. "You have to move on. Because if you stop taking decisions, you stop growing."

Dubai, which has little oil of its own, relied on cheap loans to pump up its international clout during the frenzied boom years.

But, like many overextended homeowners, the emirate and its state-backed companies borrowed too heavily and then struggled to keep up with payments as the financial crisis intensified and credit markets froze up.

- AP