DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - The world's tallest skyscraper has unexpectedly closed to the public a month after its lavish opening, disappointing tourists headed for the observation deck and casting doubt over plans to welcome its first permanent occupants in the coming weeks.
Electrical problems are at least partly to blame for the closure
of the Burj Khalifa's viewing platform - the only part of the
half-mile high tower open yet. But a lack of information from the
spire's owner left it unclear whether the rest of the largely empty
building - including dozens of elevators meant to whisk visitors to
the tower's more than 160 floors - was affected by the shutdown.
The indefinite closure, which began Sunday, comes as Dubai
struggles to revive its international image as a cutting-edge Arab
metropolis amid nagging questions about its financial health.
The Persian Gulf city-state had hoped the 2,717-foot (828-meter)
Burj Khalifa would be a major tourist draw. Dubai has promoted
itself by wowing visitors with over-the-top attractions such as the
Burj, which juts like a silvery needle out of the desert and can be
seen from miles around.
In recent weeks, thousands of tourists have lined up for the
chance to buy tickets for viewing times often days in advance that
cost more than $27 apiece. Now many of those would-be visitors,
such as Wayne Boyes, a tourist from near Manchester, England, must
get back in line for refunds.
"It's just very disappointing," said Boyes, 40, who showed up
at the Burj's entrance Monday with a ticket for an afternoon time
slot only to be told the viewing platform was closed. "The tower
was one of my main reasons for coming here," he said.
The precise cause of the $1.5 billion Dubai skyscraper's
temporary shutdown remained unclear.
In a brief statement responding to questions, building owner
Emaar Properties blamed the closure on "unexpected high traffic,"
but then suggested that electrical problems were also at fault.
"Technical issues with the power supply are being worked on by
the main and subcontractors and the public will be informed upon
completion," the company said, adding that it is "committed to
the highest quality standards at Burj Khalifa."
Despite repeated requests, a spokeswoman for Emaar was unable to
provide further details or rule out the possibility of foul play.
Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects and the man charged with
coordinating the tower's construction, could not be reached.
Construction workers at the base of the tower said they were
unaware of any problems.
Power was reaching some parts of the building. Strobe lights
warning aircraft flashed and a handful of floors were illuminated
Emaar did not say when the observation deck would reopen. Ticket
sales agents were accepting bookings starting on Valentine's Day
this Sunday, though one reached by The Associated Press could not
confirm the building would reopen then.
Tourists affected by the closure are being offered the chance to
rebook or receive refunds.
The shutdown comes at a sensitive time for Dubai. The city-state
is facing a slump in tourism - which accounts for nearly a fifth of
the local economy - while fending off negative publicity caused by
more than $80 billion in debt it is struggling to repay.
Ervin Hladnik-Milharcic, 55, a Slovenian writer planning to
visit the city for the first time this month, said he hoped the
Burj would reopen soon.
"It was the one thing I really wanted to see," he said. "The
tower was projected as a metaphor for Dubai. So the metaphor should
work. There are no excuses."
Dubai opened the skyscraper on Jan. 4 in a blaze of fireworks
televised around the world. The building had been known as the Burj
Dubai during more than half a decade of construction, but the name
was suddenly changed on opening night to honor the ruler of
neighboring Abu Dhabi.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two of seven small sheikdoms that
comprise the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi hosts the federation's
capital and holds most of the country's vast oil reserves. It has
provided Dubai with $20 billion in emergency cash to help cover its
Questions were raised about the building's readiness in the
months leading up to the January opening.
The opening date had originally been expected in September, but
was then pushed back until sometime before the end of 2009. The
eventual opening date just after New Year's was meant to coincide
with the anniversary of the Dubai ruler's ascent to power.
There were signs even that target was ambitious. The final metal
and glass panels cladding the building's exterior were installed
only in late September. Early visitors to the observation deck had
to peer through floor-to-ceiling windows caked with dust - a sign
that cleaning crews had not yet had a chance to scrub them clean.
Work is still ongoing on many of the building's other floors,
including those that will house the first hotel designed by Giorgio
Armani that is due to open in March. The building's base remains
largely a construction zone, with entrance restricted to the
viewing platform lobby in an adjacent shopping mall.
The first of some 12,000 residential tenants and office workers
are supposed to move in to the building this month.
The Burj Khalifa boasts more than 160 stories. The exact number
is not known.
The observation deck, which is mostly enclosed but includes an
outdoor terrace bordered by guard rails, is located about
two-thirds of the way up on the 124th floor. Adult tickets bought
in advance cost 100 dirhams, or about $27. Visitors wanting to
enter immediately can jump to the front of the line by paying 400
dirhams - about $110 apiece.
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