For many visitors, much of the appeal of Oman lies in the striking dissimilarities it presents with the neighbouring UAE, Dubai in particular. However, proof that Oman is not entirely lacking Dubai’s taste for vast new mega-developments and infrastructure projects – and all the attendant financial woe that they can create – is provided by the troubled Blue City project (wwww.almadinaazarqa.com), now officially known as Al Madina A’Zarqa, although still usually referred to by its original name.
Launched in late 2007, Blue City was intended to serve as a major peg in Oman’s ongoing strategy to diversify its oil-based economy, featuring four hotels, two golf courses, 200 villas and 5000 apartments spread along 16km of coastline near Al Sawadi, at a total cost of around US$20 billion. As with many projects in the neighbouring UAE, however, the credit crunch crippled development, and by early 2010 the scheme was close to liquidation, until the Abu Dhabi-backed Essdar Investments stepped in to rescue it. After a year of attempting to revive the project, Essdar gave up and sold it back to the Oman government, who are now left holding the baby.
The future of Blue City remains uncertain, although it seems that the project will still go ahead, in some form at least. Driving along the coast at present there’s not much to see apart from the distant outlines of some half-hearted construction work, although the possibility that a fine stretch of unspoiled Omani coastline will be buried under an expanse of ersatz Arabian villas, chintzy hotels and water-hungry golf courses remains at least distantly on the cards.