DUBAI—Representatives from the emirate of Dubai announced with disappointment this week that its recent debt crisis has forced developers to halt construction on the city's long-planned 22-mile-long indoor mountain range.
The culmination of a decade's worth of ambitious and expensive building projects, Dubai's estimated $100 billion debt officially brought work on the artificial mountain range to a stop on Tuesday.
"This is a very sad day for the emirate of Dubai," Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum told reporters at a press conference held inside the gold-plated anti-gravity chamber in his palace. "Although I believe it is the basic right of all who visit us to be able to scale to the top of a 15,000-foot-tall manmade snowcap, these tough economic times have made it an impossibility. Never before has our proud municipality faced such a grave crisis."
Added Sheikh Hamdan, "The time, I'm afraid, has finally come for us to tighten our jewel-studded belts."
With only seven of the planned 19 peaks completed and the artificial glaciers only partially frozen, the real estate firm Nakheel now says the landmark Alps Dubai development will miss its planned April 2011 opening date, and with it, the controlled volcanic eruption that would have commemorated the event.
"Everything had been progressing right on schedule," said project manager Zayed Kemaar. "The plate tectonics were almost in place, we were getting good vulcanism, and we had helicopter-loads of marble and schist arriving every day from Switzerland. We even had herds of pure-white albino bighorn rams standing on five of the peaks. Then, of course, the bottom fell out, and now we barely have the money to keep the air conditioning on."
Added Kemaar, "It just goes to show you that, when the economy is down, vital infrastructure projects like this are always the first to suffer."
A number of Dubai officials have even speculated that the cornerstone Jabal Khalifa mountain, which, at 27,100 feet—not counting the 300-foot-tall Lebanese-cedar log flume atop the casino at the summit—would have been the sixth-highest peak in the world, may have to be canceled entirely.
"At this rate, we may be forced to dip into the vast diamond mines we installed in the center of the city last February," Kemaar said.
Across the city there are signs of how deeply the overall economic climate of Dubai has been affected. Thousands of VIP tables sit empty, Lamborghinis clog dealership lots, and, with many unable to afford the usual imported pet foods, the streets are filled with starving stray snow leopards and feral peacocks. Empty glass tubes, once intended to contain seawater in which the city's fleet of nuclear commuter submarines would travel, hang forlornly 30 stories overhead.
As the emirate reels from the news of the mountain range's suspension, developers and government officials alike remain stymied on the best course of action for resolving the debt crisis and resuming work.
"Maybe this cold hard dose of reality is what Dubai needed," said Sheikh Hamdan, adding that he remained "hopeful" his mountain range would one day be completed. "Maybe it's time for us to pull ourselves up by the straps of our handmade custom-fitted patent-leather Italian boots and put our slaves back to work. Only through ingenuity, perseverance, and forced labor can Dubai get back to being Dubai again."
"And mark my words," he added, "We will still put a man on the artificial moon we're building by 2025."