At the MEED Major New Project Opportunities in Dubai conference on 6-7 December, speaker after speaker unveiled fresh details about monster projects to be implemented in the emirate.

Emaar Properties is pressing ahead with its $20,000 million Downtown project, including the world’s tallest tower and largest mall. City of Arabia, just a small part of Dubailand which aims to attract up to 100 million visitors a year, will have a mall, a monorail and computerised, life-like dinosaurs. Dubai Sports City’s four world-class stadiums should be good enough to hold Olympic events. Its homes will accommodate up to 70,000 permanent residents.

Business Bay, being developed by Dubai Properties, entails 500 towers and a canal up to 130 metres wide that will run south from the head of Dubai Creek eventually to cut through to the Gulf. When complete, it will effectively turn Bur Dubai into an island.

If this is not enough, then the new Jebel Ali International Airport will have six runways, enough space for 120 million passengers a year and a targeted, long-term population of 750,000 people. It will complement, not replace Dubai International Airport, now being expanded to handle up to 60 million passengers.

Smaller scale projects such as the Dubai Biotechnology Park (Dubiotech) will do groundbreaking stem cell research in facilities involving investment of up to $400 million.

More than $3,000 million will be ploughed into the Dubai Metro. This will probably connect with the Palm Jumeirah monorail that is to run almost 6 kilometres up the trunk to the crescent, ferrying up to 6,000 people an hour to and from the giant Atlantis Hotel water park. It will be the first commercial monorail in the Middle East and the first of up to seven such projects in Dubai.

And then there is Nakheel, the biggest developer of them all. Palm Jumeirah, which is due to open in phases from the end of 2006, is designed to have a permanent population of 100,000 people. Palm Deira, which involves history’s largest ever dredging contract, is to have at least 250,000. Dubai Waterfront and Palm Jebel Ali outstrip them all, with a final projected combined population of more than 1 million.

By the end of the event, I was able to make a rough estimate of how much all this would cost. After gnawing the end of my pencil, I came up with a figure of $200,000 million by 2020.

Of course, like long-term weather forecasts, this could be hopelessly wrong. But in the absence of any better figure, it’s a number I shall henceforth use. If I am right, then it remains true that Dubai is witnessing the greatest project story ever told.

So what has been built is only a fraction of what is yet to come. The challenge for the emirate and its friends is enormous. So is the opportunity. Abu Dhabi breaks the mould

The announcement by Sheikh Hamed Bin Zayed, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Planning & Economy, that a new law had been passed allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership of businesses set up in the emirate’s special economic zones is probably the most important development for business since oil was discovered.

It clears the way for the establishment of up to 20 zones that could transform the structure of the Abu Dhabi economy in less than a generation. The masterplan calls for accommodation to be provided in the zones for up to 400,000 manufacturing workers. If this target is achieved, Abu Dhabi will have one of the biggest industrial sectors in the region.

More than a dozen initial investors in the second, new industrial area were also announced on 14 December. Anticipation is now mounting about the identities of major foreign investors being lined up to invest in the zones.