January 8, 2013 6:37 pm

Abu Dhabi awards Louvre branch contract

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Louve UAE©AP

Abu Dhabi has awarded a $653m contract to build a local branch of France’s Louvre museum, as it presses ahead with high-profile prestige projects that stalled during a spending review triggered by the financial crisis.

A joint venture including Arabtec, a construction group based in neighbouring Dubai and part owned by Abu Dhabi, has secured the deal to build the museum, one of three cultural institutions being built in association with western bodies.

While Abu Dhabi’s vast oil wealth means it will never be short of money to finance such projects, questions remain about whether they will prove the draw to visitors the government anticipates when they start opening from 2015.

Arabtec said it had won the building contract after a competitive bidding process, along with its joint venture partners Constructora San Jose of Spain and Oger Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Saudi Oger.

The Louvre is due to open in 2015, followed by the Zayed National Museum – being built in association with the British Museum – in 2016 and a franchise of New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2017.

The museums were originally due to start opening early next year, but the dates were put back after a lengthy Abu Dhabi government public spending review.

The museums are part of an ambitious development on Saadiyat Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi city, including high-end accommodation and a campus of the UK’s Cranleigh School catering for more than 1,600 students.

The Saadiyat project and other big infrastructure initiatives in the emirate were shrouded in doubt during the tightly held spending review, although most of the delayed developments seem to be going ahead again in some form.

Abu Dhabi is trying to establish itself as both an international cultural centre and a big tourist destination, although it faces obstacles ranging from competition from Dubai to official curbs on freedom of expression.

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