Atlantis to open on Wednesday despite recent fire damage

The opening of the giant Atlantis, The Palm resort will go ahead as scheduled on September 24 despite the recent fire there.

But the lobby, which was damaged in the blaze, will not open until mid-October, a senior official has revealed.

„We started with 2,500 people cleaning up,“ said James Boocher, President, Development, at Kerzner International. „After any fire, water damage is the biggest problem. We put a call out to our contracting partners and it took three days to clean up.

„We started painting two days ago after cleaning top down. At the same time we are putting the new roof on. We have also started cleaning the outside where the paint was scorched and hope to open the main lobby by mid-October. The damage amounted to a few million dollars,“ he said.

Atlantis, The Palm, is a 1,539-room, ocean-themed destination resort at the centre of the crescent of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. The USD 1.5 billion (AED 5.5bn) joint venture project was developed with Istithmar, which is owned by the Dubai Government.

The resort, which has been built on a 46-hectare site, has a 17-acre waterpark and lagoons containing 65,000 marine animals.

„The lobby that burned down was the pass-through to the two towers,“ added Boocher. „We have taken it out of service for the next four weeks and have set up lobbies in each of the towers. All the rest of the facilities will be open. Guest in the west wing will come down to the lower public lobby and will use the golf cart shuttle service to reach the waterpark. We have added a dozen more carts to the current 10.

„We will not open all the rooms immediately. We plan to open between 600 and 800 rooms on September 24 and then increase the number to 1,000, and so on.“

There has been no redesign as a result of the fire and a glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly will still be the focal point.

„The lobby will be put back the way it was. Rumours that the Dale Chihuly centerpiece melted are untrue. I brought the Dale Chihuly team back because it had suffered smoke damage. They cleaned it top down and wrapped it in plastic.

„The bowl below the artwork had to be cleaned up so we have taken off the lower five branches. It will take a day to put it all back.

„When the fire broke out there were people in the hotel and we were able to evacuate everyone. The systems worked fine and we had everyone out in 15 minutes. The damage was contained in four hours.“

Plans for the project were placed before the Kerzner International board in November 2005, said Boocher.

„It was approved and light infrastructure and utility work was done around December 2005.

„We started piling in February 2006 and started pouring concrete in June. In 2007 we finished the concrete structure and then 14 months later finished the interior spaces. The total construction period has been a 32-month time-frame from start to finish.

„We have built resorts in interesting locations in Mexico and in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This particular project was tough on the front end but most of our team have been with us for around 20 years, especially in logistics. They figured out the power loop, used temporary generators and built a labour camp for 8,500 people with a medical clinic and other facilities.“ The fact that Nakheel was building The Palm at the same time created some difficulties.

„There was a lot of infrastructure work and it was difficult at times to reach the site. Being self-contained in terms of the construction area helped but with a town coming up we worked closely with Nakheel and its contractors and ran a 24-hour operation from day one. If the roads were closed we delivered at night – it was easier for us to take the bulk of the material in between 10pm and 6am. The trucks were unloaded in the morning for work to begin.“

„We had a concrete batch plant on site. Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke was the structural contractor and manager and we had direct access to all the main contractors. We sat face-to-face at monthly meetings and if they had problems with materials we would dispatch our staff directly to factories to help them.“

Kerzner Development handled the entire process from design to turnover and management.

„Many developers here choose to hand over their projects to a general contractor. We believed in a hands-on approach. You can pull this off if you have the staff. Materials were always an issue because Dubai is very busy in terms of construction. There were times when we had no cement and could not pour concrete. It was very difficult but we did it.

„The labour camp was well equipped in terms of food and a clinic. I even got a mobile banking unit out here so people could wire money home on time.“

Company Chairman Sol Kerzner is not a typical owner, said Boocher.

„He knows every single detail about the hotel from the dimensions of the room to the taps. He sits in on every design meeting.

„One of the biggest things we did was to build all the toilets for the rooms here in a factory at Al Quoz. Doors and aluminium finishes were the other prefabricated elements.“

Landscaping such a large site created further challenges for the firm.

„Dubai is under so much pressure. There are some very large landscaping firms here but the amount of work has put them under pressure. In the years to come, you could buy a decent sized tree locally but it is difficult at this point of time,“ said Boocher.

„We wanted to open the project and make it look like a mature project in terms of landscaping so we sourced plants from all over the world. In terms of other materials, the stone came from Iran, Italy, Spain, Brazil and 67 other areas. The wood was sourced from China and Thailand. The handmade doors are from India and the wooden doors we made in Dubai.

„In terms of utilities it was difficult. The same applies to budgets. It is difficult to maintain a schedule and it is not getting easier. But we did not shoot the one-and-a-half billion budget.

„We also knew that parking would be a big issue so we went back to our partner Nakheel who put in a monorail with a stop here.“

There are 2,500 parking spaces at the base of the trunk at the Gateway Tower. In addition there are 800 valet spaces and two surface lots which will handle the overflow.

„The rest of the visitors will use the shuttle service and talks are being held about water taxis.

Boocher sees great potential ahead notwithstanding the recent fire. „This is the biggest hotel in the Europe and the Middle East. This market will expand – there is no holding back,“ he said.

„Soon it will be business as usual.“