x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Giants eye Guggenheim bid

The $750 million, high-profile project from TDIC attracts bids from big UK and Australian builders that all plan to link with local partners.

The Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company.
The Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company.

Three of the world's biggest builders are planning to compete for the contract to build the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, as the emirate gears up to become a cultural centre of the Middle East. Balfour Beatty of Britain, Murray and Roberts of South Africa and Leighton of Australia are considering bids to build the high-profile contract, which will be worth about US$750 million (Dh2.75 billion), senior officials said.

They may face competition from local rivals including Arabtec of Dubai and National Projects and Construction (NPC) of Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) as part of the cultural district on its Saadiyat Island development. The tourism body yesterday invited international firms with annual sales of more than $1bn to pre-qualify for the project, which is being designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry.

The building's unusual design could be challenging to build, said Grahame McCaig, the general manager of Dutco Balfour Beatty, which is the local unit of Britain's biggest builder. "With very complex details and architectural finishes, it won't be straightforward," Mr McCaig said. "Therefore, it would be advantageous for us to hook up with one of the larger subcontractors for some of the packages."

Abu Dhabi is investing billions of dollars in developing its cultural attractions with projects including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which it hopes will also boost its tourism appeal as it seeks to diversify its economy. Tom Barry, the chief executive of Arabtec Construction, the UAE's largest construction firm, said the company would probably seek to get a partner on board for the project. Mr Barry said Arabtec has "had some discussions" with the TDIC about the contract to build the Louvre, also part of the cultural village, after having submitted a bid in May. The shortlist for the Louvre contract is expected to be finalised shortly.

Murray and Roberts is in discussions with Al Habtoor Leighton Group, a joint venture involving Australia's largest construction company, about a possible bid, a senior official said. "Abu Dhabi is certainly taking off," said Nigel Harvey, the general manager for Murray and Roberts. "The type of projects Murray and Roberts looks for tend to be more complex. That's why we got involved in the Burj Al Arab, and that's where we think we can add value."

Paul Majoor, the general manager of NPC, said the firm was considering the requirements of the project, and if it placed a bid, it would probably do so with a partner. The TDIC is likely to benefit from a steep decline in local building costs, and has reworked a number of its project tenders as a result of the changing market conditions. The developer will also be able to take advantage of the greater availability of contractors because of the slowdown. An agreement to build the 30,000 square metre Guggenheim was signed with the Guggenheim Foundation in New York in 2006.

The museum is one of five cultural buildings planned for Saadiyat Island's cultural district, including the Louvre, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, a performing arts centre and a maritime museum. The TDIC has invited building firms to submit pre-qualification documents by October 15. Contractors will then go through a pre-qualification process before a shortlist is drawn up. agiuffrida@thenational.ae