By David French
Dubai says it will press ahead with plans to build the world's largest shopping mall despite an economic slowdown looming in the region, but will assess market demand before proceeding with the project's later stages.
The Mall of the World project, encompassing 745,000 square metres of shopping space connected to a theme park, 100 hotels and serviced apartment buildings with 20,000 rooms, was announced in mid-2014, just as oil prices began a precipitous plunge.
Oil makes little direct contribution to Dubai's economy, but its drop has dampened consumer and investor confidence in the Gulf's financial and tourist hub as neighbouring governments slash subsidies and economists cut growth forecasts.
"We will be reacting to the demands of the market. The project is massive and complex and will have to be built in stages," said Ahmad bin Byat, vice-chairman and managing director of Dubai Holding, a company owned by the emirate's ruler that is responsible for the project.
He predicted it would still become the world's largest shopping destination, adding that the first phase -- representing about a quarter of the project's size -- would be completed before Dubai hosts the Expo 2020 exhibition.
Plans for the remainder "will be dependent on market dynamics", Byat told a news conference, saying the project would be funded through an equal split of his company's internal resources, institutional investors and debt.
He estimated the total bill would be nearly 80 billion dirhams (NZ$32.8 billion) and that Dubai Holding would provide "just shy" of 30 billion dirhams.
"We're talking to advisors, financial investors, sovereign funds, many people," Byat said. "We have a lot of understandings with quite a few people. This is a mixed-use project which will be very interesting not only to locals but for the global market to invest in."
Having become world famous for its lavish real estate developments, Dubai was badly hit by the global financial crisis in 2009 and was forced to shelve or cancel scores of projects.
However, it did not take long for investors to return and the emirate, one of seven in the United Arab Emirates Federation, has resumed its ambitious plans.