When the clocks strike midnight on December 31, Abu Dhabi will enter more than just a new year. It will mark the start of a new phase in the city's development that will see a host of projects bring significant changes to the way many of us work, shop and play.
2013 will also be a year in which promises that have been made - plans drawn and cheques signed - begin to be fulfilled. That, in turn, means the start of a new phase of growth, according to the international real estate experts Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL). As well as being experts in commercial real estate and investment management, JLL also produce in-depth market research on the fundamentals that drive the real estate market in Abu Dhabi, the UAE and the wider region.
"In 2010 and 2011 there was a really stringent review about which projects would be a priority, but in 2012 the projects were still at a feasibility stage and it will really be from next year onwards that big contracts get placed and from 2013 and '14 onwards, job growth will really start again," says David Dudley, head of JLL's operation in the Mena region.
For Dudley, the January 2012 commitment by the Tourism Development & Investment Company to key projects such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum was an important marker for Abu Dhabi's longer-term development, but noticeable change will only return in the next two to three years when renewed government spending kick-starts jobs and stronger demand for office space, hotels and housing returns.
"2009 was when we started to see the slowdown, 2010-12 have been years of consolidation and inactivity and what we'll see from 2013 onwards are the first signs of recovery, but it will be entirely linked to government spending on infrastructure and economic diversification."
By 2017, Abu Dhabi will see the expansion of its airport and of Etihad Airways, the further development of the new Khalifa Port and Kizad industrial zones, the opening of two of the three museums planned for Saadiyat and the widespread redevelopment of Yas Island - all of which bodes well for the emirate's long-term future. But what of the next 12 months?
Projects such as the development of Al Maryah Island, formerly known as Sowwah, will open up new places for us to explore and the relentless expansion of the city's hotel sector will provide an even greater number of places to dine. The addition of Abu Dhabi's largest mall and waterpark will also finally make Yas Island a year-round destination while, thanks to the new rides at Yas Waterworld, new phrases such as Bubbles Barrel, Bandit Bomber and Dawwama are set to pepper the city's vocabulary. For thrill and pleasure-seekers at least, 2013 looks set to be a very happy new year.
As the home of Ferrari World and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas already registers in the imaginations of petrol-heads the world over. Thanks to master developer Aldar, however, 2013 will also be the year when the island enters the affections of shopaholics and waterborne thrill-seekers of all ages.
Described as Abu Dhabi's first "super-regional" shopping destination, the new 235,000-square-metre Yas Mall, which is already under construction, will include 450 stores, including a Géant hypermarket, a 14-screen Grand Cinema, a family entertainment zone, 30 food court units and five department stores. While there have been no official announcements as yet, Aldar promises Yas Mall will bring major international brands and retailers who have never been seen in the region before.
Nearby, there are also plans to expand the Yas Marina development into a good day out for families with children's play areas as well as restaurants along a waterfront promenade to attract more visitors in the evening. At present, the marina has berths for 143 yachts and super-yachts up to 90 metres in length. As Yas Marina general manager, Cedric Le Rest, explains: "In 2013, we will be turning our attention towards developing Yas Marina as a destination, providing some fantastic additional offerings for the boating community and general public alike."
The cherry on the rather sizeable cake will be Yas Waterworld. The 15-hectare family waterpark, with an opening date of January 24, is expected to feature 43 slides, rides and attractions, many of which have fantastical names. Look forward to queuing for the Slither's Slides - marketed as the world's first rattling waterslide complete with video, light and sound effects, or the Bandit Bomber - a 550-metre long roller coaster; another first for a waterpark as it features on-board water and laser effects.
Sir Bani Yas Island
Established as a wildlife reserve by Sheikh Zayed in 1971, Sir Bani Yas Island sits seven kilometres off the coast of Jebel Dhanna, 250km south-west of Abu Dhabi. Located on the northern tip of the island, the Sir Bani Yas Desert Islands Resort and Spa, managed by Anantara, already offers riding at its stables, which opened this year, "game drives" to view herds of native wildlife species such as the Arabian oryx, kayaking and archery to guests staying at the five-star luxury hotel. Nature enthusiasts will soon be able to view sand gazelles roaming on man-made savannah from the comfort of the new Anantara Al Sahel Villas - 30 thatched, one- and two-bedroom villas that have been built in the middle of the island's Arabian wildlife park. The villas will also share a tented library, lounge and restaurant facilities at the Savannah Grill.
For visitors who want to explore the maritime conservation area that surrounds Sir Bani Yas, Anantara is also launching the Al Yamm beachfront villa development and the Desert Islands Watersports Centre - a dive-centre-cum-beach club with a restaurant and rooftop terrace that is just a short walk from the hotel. Depending on the season, divers can expect encounters with dolphins, dugongs, stingrays and small reef sharks as well as smaller fish species. The Watersports Centre will also offer diving lessons to novices, gear rental and "catch and release" fishing.
Al Maryah Island
If destinations such as Yas, Sir Bani Yas and Saadiyat start to monopolise our leisure time over the coming year, island life will also increasingly define Abu Dhabi's working week as Al Maryah Island establishes itself as the capital's new Central Business District.
Tucked between Reem Island and Abu Dhabi Mall, Al Maryah is home to a cluster of towers at Sowwah Square that have already attracted blue chip tenants such as JP Morgan, Deloitte, Accenture and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. Sowwah Square is also home to the new headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, the Cleveland Clinic - a 364-bed, multi-speciality hospital - and the new Rosewood Abu Dhabi - a 34-storey, five-star business hotel that will offer 189 rooms and suites, over 130 serviced residences, 73 residences for annual lease and four penthouses. The Rosewood Abu Dhabi is due to open in the second quarter of 2013.
If all that makes Al Maryah sound a little workaday, The Galleria at Sowwah Square, a panoramic waterfront shopping and dining venue, promises the highest volume of luxury retail in the capital including Abu Dhabi's first Berluti, Céline, Mulberry, Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith and Tory Burch boutiques. The Galleria is scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2013.
If off-island developments define 2013, Aldar's long-running Central Market development bucks the trend with its city-centre site. Built on the same plot as the old central souq and rebranded as the World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi (WTCAD) earlier this year, this five-hectare, mixed-use development includes two of the capital's tallest structures: the commercial, 278-metre, 59-storey WTCAD Offices and the 382-metre, 88-storey luxury WTCAD Residences that houses 474 apartments and penthouses.
When the WTCAD is complete early in 2013, the existing Central Market with its distinctive central atrium will be linked to the rest of the development by a new bridge spanning Khalifa Street. Already built, the bridge has the same geometric cladding as the rest of the development. Much of the rest of the WTCAD campus consists of The Mall at WTCAD, a new 62,000-square-metre shopping venue that will contain Abu Dhabi's first House of Fraser department store, 150 boutiques, an eight-screen cinema, two atria with retractable roofs and over 3,000 square metres of terraces and rooftop gardens. The Mall at WTCAD is scheduled to open early in 2013, while a new 195-room, four-star Marriott hotel is expected to open a year later.
The Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
2013 sees the arrival of even more hotels in the capital, including another St Regis at the new Nation Towers, opposite the Hiltonia Beach Club at the west end of the Corniche, and Abu Dhabi's first Dusit Thani on Muroor Road, opposite the Al Jazira Stadium. However, the new year will also see the arrival of one of the capital's largest hospitality projects - the new Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi. Such is its theme and scale - the Venetian-styled hotel has 447 guest rooms, 52 suites and 85 private villas - it aims to single-handedly restyle Qaryat Al Beri as Abu Dhabi's very own Grand Canal.
Enjoying majestic views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - whose floral design influences everything from the hotel's mosaics to embroidered towels and bed linens - the hotel boasts a 1,600-square-metre pool, an ESPA spa, 17 restaurants, bars and cafes. If that's not enough to make most jaws drop, a nightly performance by an opera singer looks set to render listeners speechless.