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Monument to excess? Dubai opens world's tallest building

Dubai opened the world’s tallest skyscraper today, hoping at least for the moment to deflect worries about the emirate’s massive debt burden.

The building’s official height, a secret until now, was put at 2,717 feet -- more than a half-mile high.

DubaitowerIn a city-state drastically overbuilt, Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of developer Emaar, addressed the obvious question:

"You have to ask, 'Why we are building all this?' To bring quality of life and a smile to people and I think we should continue to do that," said Alabbar, according to Reuters.

“Crises come and go," he said. "We build for years to come ... We must have hope and optimism."

Dubai triggered a sell-off in global stock markets Nov. 25 after saying it needed debt relief for one of its principal development arms, Dubai World.

The $1.5-billion new tower will take the name Burj Khalifa after the ruler of the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

There's a good reason why the sheikh's name will be on the building. As Reuters noted: “Abu Dhabi has facilitated $25 billion in bailout funds for Dubai in the past year, fueling expectations that Dubai will make concessions or cede some of its commercial power to its wealthier neighbor.”

The 200-160-story building is mostly residential, according to Bloomberg News. Many buyers must be having an extreme case of remorse.

From Bloomberg:

The centerpiece of the $20 billion Downtown Dubai project includes 37 office floors, 1,044 apartments and 160 hotel rooms designed by Giorgio Armani. Emaar said it expects 12,000 people to live or work in the tower and connected office buildings.

Apartment prices in the tower, which soared as high as 10,000 dirhams ($2,700) a square foot at the 2008 peak, have dropped to less than half of that.

Emaar sold 90% of the properties in the tower prior to its completion and years before the global financial crisis caused banks to curtail mortgage lending, Alabbar said.

The L.A. Times' Christopher Hawthorne last week called the new tower a "monument to architectural vacancy."

-- Tom Petruno

Photos: World's tallest building opens

Photo: The Burj Khalifa tower. Photo credit: Martin Rose / Bongarts / Getty Images

 
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