Abu Dhabi Sets New Dates For Louvre, Guggenheim

By Salon Staff

Published January 25, 2012 12:00PM (EST)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The developer of an ambitious cultural district in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday outlined a new timetable for the stalled project, with its first attraction — a branch of the Louvre — now slated to open in 2015.

A division of the Guggenheim will follow in 2017, which like the outpost of the French art institution will make its debut in the Emirati capital years later than originally planned.

The landmark projects on the emirate's multi-billion dollar Saadiyat Island development have been hit by a series of delays since being unveiled five years ago, including an announcement last year that the government-backed developer was dropping plans to award a major construction contract.

That renewed questions about Abu Dhabi's commitment to the project, which aims to turn the fast-growing city into a major cultural and tourism hub.

The museums had been scheduled to start opening this year, but officials had already said that was no longer possible.

Wednesday's statement by the Tourism Development and Investment Co. gave no further details into the delays. A national museum named after the United Arab Emirates' first president is also expected to open in 2016 nearby.

TDIC said "substantial work" has already been completed on the Saadiyat museums, though actual construction appears largely limited to work on the buildings' foundations on the arid island.

The revised opening dates are designed to give "each museum sufficient time to establish its own identity on the local and international cultural stage," the company said. All three museums were previously supposed to open in quick succession.

David Dudley, regional director at real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, said the new timetable provides a welcome measure of certainty.

"It's a sensible decision ... and it makes sense to stagger them" over several years rather than try to open all the museums at around the same time, he said.

The new timeline adds further clarity to an update the company gave in October, when TDIC said it was committed to the project but was pushing back its completion dates. That disclosure helped put to rest rumors that the project had been put on hold indefinitely or was being scrapped altogether.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi's executive council approved a broad range of development projects in the emirate, with a focus on social services, housing, health and education. A statement issued after the meeting said the board approved the budgets and opening date for the Saadiyat Island museums, but gave no details.

Abu Dhabi is the largest and richest of the seven semiautonomous sheikdoms that make up the UAE. Its executive council helps set policies for the emirate, though final authority rests with the emirate's heredity ruler, who is also the president of the UAE.

"What they've done is prioritized their spending on what will have the best economic and social benefit," Dudley said.

TDIC is one of several companies set up by Abu Dhabi to diversify the economy and drive development in the emirate, which borders Dubai to the south.

The money-losing company relies heavily on direct cash infusions from the oil-rich Abu Dhabi government. Besides the museums, it is building luxury villas, hotels and other property developments in the Emirati capital.

The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim and the Louvre branch, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, are meant to be the centerpieces of a waterfront museum campus on Saadiyat Island, the cost of which is expected to reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

The project, launched in 2007, also calls for a maritime museum and a futuristic-looking performing arts center.

Last March, more than 130 international artists and writers promised to boycott the Guggenheim unless authorities do more to protect workers' rights at the site. TDIC has said it is committed to doing so.


Associated Press writer Brian Murphy contributed to this report.

Salon Staff

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