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Universal Studios Dubailand: A Case Study on the Rise and Fall of Dubai

They had everything they needed: Space, money, time, workers, tourists, big brands, and, perhaps most importantly, hype. Just a few years ago, the developers of Dubailand—an enormous $64 billion, 107-square-mile mega-theme park—thought they were onto something. And considering Dubai's status as the world's fastest growing destination, why wouldn't they? The daring plans included hotels, shopping, restaurants, residential space, planetariums, art, sports arenas, golf courses, resorts, spas, a beach, you name it. It was a planned city just outside a city.

And, of course, there were the theme parks. At least ten were planned, including Six Flags, Legoland, Dreamworks Animation Park, Paramount Pictures Park, and one of the most promising, Universal Studios Dubailand. From inception to its current state, Universal Studios is a perfect example of the dream that was Dubai.

April 30, 2007, Project announced
Status: Almost set in stone
Universal announces its $1.2 billion, 7-million-square-foot theme park as part of the larger Dubailand. Scheduled to open in December 2010, Universal Studios Dubailand will include five different areas, each with several rides: Surf City Boardwalk, Epic Adventures, the Land of Legendary Heroes, Hollywood, and New York City.


July 27, 2008, Groundbreaking
Status: Hopeful and positive
More than a year after the announcement, the CEO of Dubailand and the VP of Universal Studios Dubailand break ground on the park in the company of Woody and Winnie Woodpecker, a raptor from Jurassic Park and two large Nubian Guards from The Mummy movies.


September 2008, Office building built
Status: Progress!
An office building in the shape of the classic Universal Studios archway is constructed, giving hope that rides and other attractions are on their way. But the 2010 completion date is looming, and there have been no real advancements. Hmm...


January 19, 2009, Opening postponed at least to 2012
Status: Uh oh...
Two years didn't seem like enough time to build an entire park when announced, but when no significant construction took place (oh, and there was that global recession thing. Have you heard about it?), a postponement was inevitable. As is common in Dubai, execs are mum on details and the press is given "no comment" responses. Reports claim more than 50 people are laid off from the project.


June 2009, Deadzone
Status: Comatose
Various reports from Dubailand say nothing is happening at the Universal Studios site. No employees go in or out, no construction is happening, nothing stands but an office building and a few empty roads. In the city of Dubai, things are not looking good as expats flee and construction halts. The six years of boom seem to be coming to a slow end.


Aug. 3, 2009, Contracts under review
Status: Frightened. Very frightened.
Tatweer, the developer behind Dubailand and Universal Studios, is looking over its contracts very closely to try to cut costs. The fall in tourism and a general lack of financing slows the project significantly. "Progress on the theme park continues and we will announce an opening date to the market in line with project milestones," Tatweer says in a statement.


Today, Rumors of movement
Status: Unknown
Though unreliable sources claim the rumblings of construction at Dubailand, like most information coming out of Dubai, nothing is certain.


Photographer Lauren Greenfield documented the fall of Dubai in a photo essay in the September issue of Fast Company.

[via the Associated Press]

[Groundbreaking photo courtesy of Dubai Holding.]