The ‘other’ side of sports infrastructure are theme parks, which are equally challenging for contractors and consultants.
Perhaps the most well-known theme-park development in the UAE is Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. Another themed attraction is the Ice Land Water Park in Ras Al Khaimah, complete with the largest man-made waterfall and the biggest rain dance pool in the world. Meanwhile, Aldar Properties’ 164,000m2 Yas Island Water Park is currently under construction and is set to feature 40 different rides.
“To some extent, the themed development industry has been affected like all others during the downturn,” says Arnaud Palu, Majid Al Futtaim’s COO for leisure and entertainment. “However, even in tough times, people continue to spend money on leisure and entertainment in their free time, making the market fairly resilient.”
Apart from being fairly abundant in number, another interesting thing about theme park projects is that they are open to any contractor capable of working on large-scale, high-profile developments.
“Theme parks are no different to other civil projects,” says Michael Oswald, Aldar’s GM for the Yas Island Water Park, “except for the inclusion of specialist ride vendors and theming contractors. Prior experience with theme parks and theming work is beneficial, but not essential.”
Palu concurs. “Specialist consultants and engineers are generally more important than specialist contractors. But contractors should be capable of delivering almost any design with the correct oversight and management.”
When it comes to theme park building, one of the special characteristics is a focus on detailed project planning and creative design. According to industry experts, planning should be concise and thorough, and include an analysis of market trends and consumer confidence.
“Every project must begin with the proper programming as developed by a qualified and highly creative team, which has an understanding of the aesthetic, functional and economic characteristics that contribute to the overall success of a project,” says Bob Behling, theme park architect at ESDA, a key player in the development of Aquaventure at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.
“The team should commit to a market analysis and budget pro forma so that the client fully understands what the market can bear in terms of development and consumer demand, as well as any financial liabilities and costing.” This is a view held by the majority of companies working on theme parks.
“Complex planning starts with the development of a storyline,” says Oswald, “and is followed by character development, which is incorporated into the concept design. Once an initial concept has been developed, then market demographics are analysed in order to determine the types and number of rides and attractions needed.”
Also setting theme parks apart from other projects is a focus on end-user experience. This is thought to be particularly significant in shaping the design and construction, as well as the numbers and types of specialist contractors and equipment brought on board.
“Every facet has to be developed around the experience of the end user, making the success of a park depend very much on how the place feels,” says Buro Happold’s Roger Nickells, who worked on Dubai’s Wild Wadi waterpark. “This means that the interlinks between the components have to be managed carefully to ensure the original intent is retained.
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