Dubai plans to triple the size of its financial district, adding an area almost the size of London’s Canary Wharf, even as the emirate faces slower growth and rising competition from neighboring banking hubs.
The expansion, dubbed DIFC 2.0, will add 13 million square feet (1.2 million square meters) to the center over several phases, with a focus on fintech and innovation, the district’s operator said. It’ll include 6.4 million square feet of office space, as well as homes, shops and hotels. Canary Wharf in East London covers an area of 16 million square feet.
Opened in 2004, the Dubai International Financial Centre propelled the city to the region’s top spot as a banking hub and attracted lenders such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., as well as asset managers and insurers, with promises of zero taxes for 50 years.
In recent years, the financial district has turned to African and Asian institutions to fill its expanding office space as big investment banks retreat to their home markets and come under mounting pressure to set up offices in neighboring hubs in Abu Dhabi and the Saudi capital, Riyadh. A slump in oil prices has hit local economies across the Persian Gulf region.
Still, Dubai has maintained its status as the region’s leading financial center, with Saudi Arabia’s 17 million square feet King Abdullah Financial District still under construction after almost a decade. The Abu Dhabi Global Market free zone, about 150 kilometers away, has also struggled to attract tenants since opening in 2013.
Dubai ranked as the Middle East’s leading financial center in a September study by consulting firm Z/Yen. The city climbed four places to No. 15, ahead of Abu Dhabi by 11 places, in the index topped by New York and London. Riyadh ranked 69th. More than 22,000 professionals work at the DIFC across about 2,000 companies.