ABU DHABI // Changing demographics in the city centre have driven plans to revamp one of the island's few women-only gardens, Mushrif Ladies & Children Garden, into a "People's Park" accessible to everyone. To be renamed Mushrif Central Park, the 14-hectare site at Karamah and Mohammed bin Khalifa Streets, is expected to open near the end of 2011, with millions of dirhams to be spent on building a botanical garden, petting zoo, performing arts amphitheatre, shade house and children's museum. The redevelopment of the area would welcome men for the first time since the park opened in 1982. "This used to be a ladies' park because the area in the past was mostly populated by locals," said Ahmed al Marar, the vice-chairman of Al Ain International Group, the holding company for Seba Properties, which is managing the project. As a student in the 1980s, Mr al Marar used to run along the park's outer wall. Under the new plans, 3km of jogging and cycling trails will traverse the park grounds, keeping visitors safely away from traffic. "There used to be a lot of cars behind the park, meaning there were a lot of families going there." Over time, he said, more Emiratis moved out of the area to newer neighbourhoods off the mainland such as Khalifa City. Attendance at Mushrif Park dropped accordingly. "In the 1990s, I started to jog again in the evenings," said Mr al Marar "and there were still cars at that time. But a couple of years ago I went back and there was hardly anybody going there." Nearly 160,000 women pay the Dh1 (US$. 27) entrance fee each year, but Mr al Marar said visitor numbers have declined recently. "During the last 15 years, the population of the locals has started to go on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. We started to see expats moving into these houses on the surrounding areas, so it became a mix of cultures," he said. "It's time for the park to accommodate that mix. That's why we're calling this the 'People's Park'." By 2020, the new Mushrif Central Park expects to draw 850,000 visitors annually. Under new landscaping plans, about 150,000 new shrubs and 700 new trees will be planted, joining the 250 broad-leafed trees there since the 1980s. Apart from attractions such as water features, a shaded promenade and a sculpture garden, Mr al Marar was most excited about introducing a Friday souk. "It's going to be maintaining the kind of ambience of UAE heritage and simplicity," he said. "It's one of the most exciting features which came from us testing the market and doing initial surveys."
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