US$2b Meydan complex in a race against time for grand opening on World Cup night

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am

They don't do things by halves in Dubai, but the problem with the new Meydan racecourse is that the job is still only half done.

Welcome to the beehive - not so-named for any honeycomb architectural feature - but because of the thousands of construction workers who continue to buzz down Al Meydan Road in a last-minute bid to have the US$2 billion racecourse finished for the World Cup meeting next weekend.

The impressive grandstand and racing surfaces were unofficially opened at the end of January for the start of the Dubai racing season. But last week plumbers, electricians, landscapers and labourers were still moving in by the bus-load to work split-shifts in a desperate bid to beat the clock and have the racecourse finished before the World Cup.

Don't let the harp player in The Meydan Hotel lobby fool you - if you can weave your way past the security guards and get a glimpse of the racecourse up close, you'll soon realise the facility remains more like a building site than the stage for racing's richest night.

Exposed electrical wires, half-finished plumbing lines and last-minute welding jobs are still visible behind the grandstand's regal facade as the army of workers try to complete Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum's grand vision.

And what a vision it is - or soon will be.

With a 1.6-kilometre long grandstand and hotel complex, 107-metre LCD screen on the home straight and 4,840 solar panels to keep the power bills down, the stand itself is a grand spectacle in its own right.

Add to that an 80-berth marina for those who wish to sail down Dubai Creek to the races, an Imax cinema, a 279-room hotel, a 40-storey Godolphin Gateway Tower and a capacity of 60,000 - and you get an idea of just how spectacular the venue will be. That will undoubtedly come in time, but for now the rush job to complete the first stage is on in earnest.

Every indication is that the installation of the new Tapeta artificial racing track has been a resounding success, but as is the case with artificial surfaces the world over, the proof will come in time as the track ages and becomes worn in.

It is also time to take the wraps off the new turf course, which has been so carefully nurtured through its early stages with only limited racing held on the grass so far. The global economic meltdown played a huge role in slowing the construction work at Meydan as nearly every project in the city came to a grinding halt - with Dubai being one of the worst hit cities in the world.

But you can be sure that when Elton John and Carlos Santana strike up the first chords at the official opening ceremony of Meydan on Saturday night, all the financial troubles of the past year will be forgotten and Dubai will be out to celebrate its magnificent venue in front of the world.