Dubai to Build the First Air-Conditioned Mini-City

UAE Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (left), listens to Chairman of Dubai Holding Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi (center) during the presentation of the Mall of the World Photograph by Dubai Holding via AP Photo

Dubai is the land of superlatives. It already lays claim to the tallest building and the biggest fish tank in the world. Now the city has unveiled plans to build the largest mall and biggest indoor theme park in what will be the first temperature-controlled mini-city.

The 8-million-square-foot shopping center, dubbed Mall of the World, will include 100 hotels, a medical resort, event facilities, and a theater district—all of which can be shielded from the elements by a large retractable roof. The project, according to the developer, Dubai Holding, will be built “in phases in alignment with the gradual growth of family tourism in Dubai.”

Rendering of the Mall of the World
Photograph by Dubai Holding via AP Photo

Attracting shoppers from abroad is the goal. The hope is to draw 180 million of them a year by providing enough entertainment, activities, and accommodations to keep the whole family happily consuming without the annoyances of unpredictable weather. The developer also wants to cash in on the growing medical tourism industry, which counts an estimated 750,000 people a year from the U.S. alone. The Mall of the World will have a 3 million-square-foot health-care complex providing specialized surgery and cosmetic procedures. With its emphasis on tourism, the project differs strongly from the American mall, which has largely failed to compete for local shoppers against the convenience and prices of online retailers.

But the Mall of the World could face its own problems if worries over Dubai’s real estate boom have merit. Reuters reports that financial institutions continue to pour money into property, even though the UAE central bank warned in a recent annual stability report that the real estate market was overheating. In 2008, another outlandish building project—a group of 300 man-made islands arranged like a world map—came to symbolize Dubai’s financial crisis. If another crash comes, the Mall of the World will be regarded as a harbinger of trouble.