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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (The Associated Press) — Who said you can’t reach the moon? A planned $5 billion real estate project wants to take skyscraper-filled Dubai to new heights by bringing a symbol of the heavens to Earth.
Michael Henderson, a Canadian businessman, wants to build a 900-foot (274-meter) replica of the moon on top of a 100-foot (30-meter) building in Dubai, which already has the world’s largest building and other architectural wonders.
Henderson’s idea, called MOON, may sound like something from another planet, but it would fit this future city-state. Dubai’s real estate market is already very hot, thanks to wealthy people fleeing their home countries due to lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic and Russians fleeing their country due to Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Although many big projects have failed during the past boom-bust cycle, Henderson and others say his dream, backed by Moon World Resorts Inc., where he co-founded, might not be so far-fetched.
Henderson told The Associated Press, “We have the biggest ‘brand’ in the world,” implying that the moon was his brand. “Eight billion people know our brand and we haven’t even started yet.”
Henderson plans to build a resort inside the spherical structure. The complex would have a 4,000-room hotel, a 10,000-seat stadium and a “moon colony” that would make people feel like they were walking on the moon.
The MOON would sit on a round building that looked like a platform and would light up at night. Henderson discussed the idea in May at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Moon World Resorts has already had artist drawings of where their MOON will be, including the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 meters (2,710 feet). Others have put it on the Dubai Pearl, a long-abandoned project being demolished near the artificial island Palm Jumeirah, and on Palm Jebel Ali, which is still unfinished.
The Pearl and Palm Jebel Ali are two “white elephant” projects left over from 2009, when a financial crisis rocked the kingdom of the sheikhs and forced Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to grant Dubai a loan of $20 billion.
After almost 15 years, Dubai has practically turned around. Even with anti-gouging rules, rents in Dubai increase an average of 26.9% year-on-year. Last year, 86,849 homes were sold in Dubai. This was more than the previous high of 80,831 homes sold in 2009.
Lewis Allsopp, CEO of well-known Dubai real estate firm Allsopp & Allsopp, said: “Dubai is in a completely different world than it was in 2009.” Products that have just come out are being “sold out on the spot”.
People around the world are worried about a global slowdown due to inflation and rising interest rates. The dirham, the currency of the United Arab Emirates, is pegged to the dollar. This means that when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, so did the dirham.
But cash is still king for Dubai shoppers. Faisal Durrani, head of Middle East research at real estate agency Knight Frank, said that by 2022 four out of five deals would be paid for in cash without financing.
“You could say that the market is somewhat protected from the interest rate increases that are occurring because a lot of the transactional activity has been cash driven,” Durrani said.
Other big projects are also progressing.
Nakheel, a state-owned company, is building Palm Jebel Ali. Plans to build it have been put in motion again. The developer also announced a multi-billion dollar plan to build 80 resorts and hotels on Dubai’s artificial islands, mostly empty and under the flight path of Dubai Foreign Airport, the world’s busiest airport for foreign travel.
There is also room for a possible casino in the MOON project. The United Arab Emirates, made up of seven hereditarily ruled sheikhs in the Arabian Peninsula, does not allow gambling. But big names like Caesar’s Palace are already in Dubai or planning to build there. Wynn Resorts wants to build a $3.9 billion resort in Ras al-Khaimah, north of Dubai. The resort will have gaming and will open in 2027, which means the law will likely change.
Christopher Davidson, a Middle East expert who recently wrote the book “From Sheikhs to Sultanism,” said MOON could fit well into “the legitimacy formula of Dubai’s ruling elite.” This is because she is a flashy, high-profile stunner. Dubai is also home to the United Arab Emirates Space Center, which sent a probe to Mars but failed to put a robot on the moon.
“They may be seen as an undemocratic elite, but they really believe in science and progress, which is ultimately very legitimizing, and a project like this seems to check all of those boxes,” Davidson said.
Henderson’s plan would go a step further than other globe-shaped projects, like the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, a $2.3 billion LED-covered dome set to open later this year.
His building would be completely round and could be illuminated as a full moon, half moon, or crescent moon.
Plans to build another MSG Sphere in London have been put on hold after people complained about the amount of light pollution and noise the building would generate.
“It’s hard to please everyone,” Henderson said. “You may need some darkening drapes.”
Jon Gambrell of the Associated Press in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, also helped with this story.
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