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May 28, 2017

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Vast fun-park dream stalls in Dubai

Six Flags, the New York-based amusement park chain, said plans for its first Mideast park were "moving forward" but provided no additional information. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in June.

The Tiger Woods-designed golf course will not open as planned this year. Woods recently told The AP the project is delayed and is "out of my hands."

Dubailand said "consistent progress continues" at the course. Three of the 18 holes are completed, which it said confirms its commitment to the project.

Union Properties, a local company building the world's first Formula One theme park at Dubailand, said in March the racing-themed project would be pushed back a year to 2010 because of a lack of funding. Analysts at Mideast bank EFG-Hermes have speculated the project could be dumped altogether.

The opening of the Legoland park is expected to be pushed back two years from its original 2011 target, said Sally Ann Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for Merlin Entertainments Group, a British amusement park operator that contracted with Tatweer to build the park.

For the international brands, Dubailand must have looked like a great opportunity.

"Around Dubai, and I'm talking about a radius of more than 3,000 miles, there are no major theme parks. Given that, it is a good idea to have a world-class theme park in the Middle East," said former Dubai resident and amusement park enthusiast Stefan Zwanzger, who blogs about the industry at Thethemeparkguy.com. "I'm not sure it makes sense to build 10 or 11 theme parks at about the same time."

The deals were typically structured as licensing agreements that left the international companies with little financial risk, according to regulatory filings and analysts. Partnering companies in effect got paid while gaining a toehold in a part of the world with a booming population and little competition.

But they also left at least part of their reputations in the hands of Tatweer, a company linked to the emirate's ruler that is now struggling.

Complicating problems for Tatweer is its planned merger with another Dubai developer, Emaar Properties, which declined to comment on Dubailand. The plan calls for publicly traded Emaar to swallow up Tatweer and two sister companies in a deal widely seen as stemming from Dubai's real estate bust.

But industry observers say the slump could also be a blessing, giving Dubai a chance to rethink its priorities.

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