Six developers have committed to building the first towers in the business district of Dubai Maritime City, eight years after the waterfront project was introduced as the "world's largest maritime development".
The developers, introduced individually with musical fanfare at a media event yesterday, are to build hotel, office and residential properties in the Dh2.5 billion (US$680.6 million) district, which is now largely sand dunes and deserted-looking construction sites.
Turning those dunes into the thriving community envisioned for the 227-hectare man-made peninsula remains a challenge for Drydocks and Maritime World, the Dubai World subsidiary leading the project.
"It's surprising any developer would go forward in this market unless they have funding in place and end-user demand," said Craig Plumb, the head of Middle East and North Africa research for the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.
Some of the developers introduced yesterday said they were still negotiating final details of their deals with Drydocks. Construction is not expected to begin until the end of next year.
"In principle, there seems to be an agreement in place," said Sawan Ravani, the director of Kensington Global, which is planning a hotel. "We are acknowledging each other's difficulties."
Most of the developers bought the land before 2008, when Dubai's market began to slump and many projects around the emirate were delayed or cancelled.
Drydocks did not lower the prices, but it has been offering developers flexible payment plans and the opportunity to reduce the size of their developments.
"We looked at ways to reconfigure proposals and create added value for them and value for ourselves," said Khamis Juma Buamim, the chairman of Drydocks and Maritime World.
Maritime City will commit $300 million over the next five years to develop the project, Mr Buamim said.
Drydocks this year launched the Marine Industrial District Operation, which provides repairs and shipbuilding facilities. Operations at Al Jadaf and Dubai Maritime City generated $25m this year, Mr Buamim said.
Drydocks yesterday named only five of the six developers it said were moving forward. In addition to Kensington, the other developers named are Sheth Developers, Sanali Global, Dubai Investments Real Estate and Swift Development, a subsidiary of the Apex Group, a US conglomerate with interests in oil, natural gas and shipping.
"We wanted to go ahead anyway," said John Warner, the director of operations in the Middle East for the Apex Group. "It suits our purpose to have a headquarters in Dubai."
Drydocks has shifted focus of the Maritime City to the energy and oil and gas sectors, Mr Buamim said.
"The opportunities presented by maritime [are] quite large," he said. Developers present at the ceremony yesterday said Maritime City offered several advantages over existing projects, including waterfront locations, established infrastructure and a location in central Dubai.
The project will also benefit from the emirate's growing tourism business and a projected increase in passenger ships docking at nearby Port Rashid.
Maritime City is expected to include one of the largest marinas in Dubai. "If they have maritime-related demand, it makes sense," Mr Plumb said.
The 121-hectare business district will develop as a hub for maritime and offshore-related trade and entrepreneurship, Mr Buamim told the group gathered yesterday.
"We are confident that the project is going to take off and reach new heights in the immediate term," he said.