DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - A man-made, palm-shaped island that, its developers say, will be as visible from space as China's Great Wall.
A luxury housing compound built around lawns and lakes - again, man-made - more reminiscent of the English countryside than the surrounding desert.
Plans for the world's tallest tower.
That's just a few of the projects underway in Dubai, a city that seems to have a special affection for superlatives when it comes to construction - biggest, tallest, and most luxurious among the favorite adjectives of developers.
The United Arab Emirates first saw a construction boom in the 1970s, when an increase in oil prices paid for large infrastructure investments.
Dubai is now in the midst of a second boom, linked to its aggressive campaign to be the region's business, shopping and tourist hub.
According to official figures, the number of construction projects in Dubai increased from 1,721 in 1997 to 2,582 in 2001.
Most of the projects are paid for by the government, the main architect of Dubai's image.
"The new and upcoming developments will go a long way in boosting the image of Dubai and will complement the tourism growth of the emirate,'' said Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman, spokesman for the city's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
Abdul Rahman said the real estate market provides international travelers with facilities that combine "the comfort and convenience of the Western world with the unique charm and adventure of the Middle East.''
The Dubai Palm Developers, funded by the government of Dubai plus local and international banks, is building the US$1.5 billion, palm-shaped island out of 100 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) of rock and sand.
Another US$2 billion island is also planned nearby. Together, they will increase the city's shoreline 166 percent, or by 120 kilometers (75 miles).
The islands, which were based on an idea of Dubai's crown prince and defense minister, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will host 60 luxury hotels, 4,000 villas, 5,000 apartments, shopping malls, health spas, restaurants, cinemas, marinas, a golf course and a water theme park.
The priciest villas will go for US$1.5 million.
The joint stock company Emaar's projects include the Emirates Hills, The Meadows, The Springs, The Lakes and The Greens - all featuring massive green areas and wide lakes, with such amenities as horse tracks, golf courses, ranches and herds of gazelle.
Emaar also is building the US$10 billion Dubai Marina, marketed as the world's first "intelligent city'' with high-tech communications for 100,000 people.
Mansour A. Al Othaimin, Emaar's sales and marketing corporate director, says Dubai's large community of skilled foreign labor needs housing - "but not any housing.''
"People who are moving here aim to upgrade their family's living standards ... and we are trying to do our part in that.''
Emaar announced in February its planned Dubai Tower would be the world's tallest building.
The skyscraper's height is being kept a secret so competitors elsewhere don't know what they have to beat.
It's not all fun and games. Dubai also has just completed a US$231 million Convention Center that is to host an IMF and World Bank annual meeting in September, the first such meeting to be held in an Arab country.
Dubai Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village, all meant to attract e-commerce enterprises, are in varying stages of completion.
Even with all the supply, demand is high. Tourists drawn by special sales at Dubai's massive malls or the beaches keep coming, maintaining hotel occupancy and encouraging more construction.
According to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, during 2002 some 4.7 million guests stayed at Dubai hotels, an increase of 31 percent over 2001.
As for the housing projects, Al Othaimin of Emaar said: "If you have a good product ... there is always a market for that.''
Emaar's profits in 2002 reached 517 million dirhams (more than US$140 million), a 51 percent increase over the year before, he said.
"You ask me about the future, this is the future,'' said Al Othaimin, sitting in his office overlooking lakes and building cranes and pointing to an artist's impression of the planned Dubai Tower. - AP
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