Abu Dhabi staked its claim as the cultural capital of the Middle East yesterday with the final go-ahead for its most eagerly anticipated landmark project.
The main contract for the Louvre Abu Dhabi was awarded to the Dubai builder Arabtec. Construction of the Dh2.4 billion development will begin immediately and the new museum is expected to open in 2015.
The architecturally stunning complex will consist of 64,000 square metres of pavilions, plazas and canals, two-thirds of it shaded by a 180-metre wide cupola that appears to float in mid air.
Designed by Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, it will form the heart of the Saadiyat Island cultural district alongside the Zayed National Museum planned to open in 2016 and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi the following year.
The first effect of the revival of the three museum projects will be to breathe new life into the construction industry and the broader economy, with the creation of thousands of jobs over the next four years.
"A healthy dose of optimism is starting to emerge in the Abu Dhabi market," said Sachin Kerur, who runs the Dubai office of the Pinsent Masons law firm.
"The announcement endorses the feel-good factor … this is welcome news."
But the long-term goal is the creation of a cultural attraction unmatched in the region, and with few rivals anywhere in the world.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is accumulating its own permanent collection with other exhibits on loan from French museums including the Musée du Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and Centre Pompidou.
They are likely to attract cultural tourists who traditionally spend more than those visiting mass-market destinations.
"This will bring Saadiyat back into the spotlight and arouse interest in the cultural offering there," said Stephen Flanagan, a director at Knight Frank, the property broker.
"The type of tourist being targeted is higher end, higher spending."
Investors are already impressed. "It's a very positive announcement for Arabtec and for Abu Dhabi as a whole," said Saleem Khokar, head of equities at National Bank of Abu Dhabi.