Dubai property firm linked to ruler plans to open 1st stage of theme park complex by 2016

A property development company controlled by Dubai's ruler outlined plans Sunday for the first phase of an entertainment and resort complex in the city that promises the Middle East's first Legoland theme park.

The project is part of a broader push by the Arab world's commercial hub to ramp up its hotel and tourism offerings as it prepares to host the World Expo in 2020.

Meraas Holding said initial work began in February on the $2.7 billion Dubai Parks and Resorts project, and that the first phase should be done by 2016. The company is backed by Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In addition to the Legoland park, that initial phase will include a Bollywood-themed park celebrating the Indian film industry and another known as Motiongate Dubai promising to bring Hollywood characters to life.

Plans also call for a central retail and dining plaza and family-friendly hotel at the complex, located in Dubai's Jebel Ali area, which is best known for hosting the region's largest seaport and the second of the emirate's palm-shaped islands. The Expo will be held nearby, alongside a new airport that officials envision will one day become the world's busiest.

Tourism plays a growing role in Dubai's trade and transportation-dependent economy. Dubai aims to host 20 million visitors annually by 2020, up from 10 million in 2012.

Dubai developers previously laid out plans for Legoland and Universal Studios parks as part of a broader complex known as Dubailand in a different part of the emirate. Those plans, along with scores of other projects, were shelved or scrapped altogether in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The financial downturn hit heavily indebted Dubai particularly hard, sending property prices tumbling and forcing the emirate to accept multibillion-dollar emergency aid packages from its oil-rich neighbor, Abu Dhabi.

The local economy has recovered considerably since the crisis came to a head in 2009, though the emirate and its state-linked companies still shoulder tens of billions of dollars in debt. The International Monetary Fund has warned that a sharp rebound in real estate prices could lead to another property bubble.

Officials in Dubai last year announced plans for a $1.6 billion island development that would include the world's biggest Ferris wheel and a $7.3 million park dedicated to the Quran, Islam's holy book.


Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at