- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2010

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | Dubai opened the world’s tallest skyscraper Monday, and in a surprise move renamed the gleaming glass-and-metal tower Burj Khalifa in a nod to the leader of neighboring Abu Dhabi — the oil-rich sheikdom which came to its rescue during the financial meltdown.

A lavish presentation witnessed by Dubai’s ruler and thousands of onlookers at the base of the tower said the building was 2,717 feet tall. At that height, the Burj Dubai has vanquished its nearest rival, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, which rises 1,667 feet. The building also boasts the most stories — 200 — and highest occupied floor of any building in the world, and ranks as the world’s tallest structure, beating out a television mast in North Dakota.

Dubai is opening the tower in the midst of a deep financial crisis. Its oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi has pumped billions of dollars in bailout funds into the emirate as it struggles to pay its debts.

Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and serves as the president of the United Arab Emirates, the federation of seven small emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Analysts have questioned what Dubai might need to offer in exchange for the financial support it has received from Abu Dhabi, which controls nearly all of the UAE’s oil wealth. Abu Dhabi provided direct and indirect injections totaling $25 billion last year as Dubai’s debt problems deepened.

Dubai’s hereditary ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in recent months has increasingly underscored the close relationship between the two emirates. Sheik Mohammed serves as vice president and prime minister of the UAE federation.

Emaar Properties, the developer of the newly opened tower said it cost about $1.5 billion to build the tapering metal-and-glass spire billed as a “vertical city” of luxury apartments and offices. It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

The Burj’s developers say they are confident in the safety of the tower, which is twice the height of New York’s Empire State Building.

Greg Sang, Emaar’s director of projects, said the Burj has “refuge floors” at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency. And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.

“It’s a lot more robust,” he said. “A plane won’t be able to slice through the Burj like it did through the steel columns of the World Trade Center.”

Dubai was little more than a sleepy fishing village a generation ago, but it boomed into the Middle East’s commercial hub over the past two decades on the back of business-friendly trading policies, relative security and vast amounts of overseas investment.

Then, property prices in parts of sheikdom collapsed by nearly half over the past year. Now, Dubai is mired in debt and many buildings sit largely empty — the result of overbuilding during a property bubble that has since burst.

Despite the past year of hardships, the tower’s developer and other officials were in a festive mood, trying to bring the world’s focus on Dubai’s future potential rather than past mistakes.

“Crises come and go. And cities move on,” Mohammed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar, told reporters before the inauguration. “You have to move on. Because if you stop taking decisions, you stop growing.”

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