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Plans to turn a desert racecourse into a luxury mini-city are galloping ahead in Dubai

By John Defterios, CNN
April 25, 2014 -- Updated 0246 GMT (1046 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Meydan Racecourse in Dubai is being transformed in to a mini-city
  • The site will feature man-made parks, lagoons, waterways, beaches and woodlands
  • Villas are expected to cost 40% more than the Dubai average

One Square Meter explores the leading architectural designs, city plans and demand for property investment in emerging markets. Join CNN's John Defterios as he visits some of the world's most dynamic cities for an insight into the fast-paced world of real estate development.

(CNN) -- For one day a year, a desert outpost in the Persian Gulf becomes the center of the horse-racing universe.

The Dubai World Cup is the richest horse race on the planet and features the world's finest thoroughbreds.

Hosted at the futuristic Meydan Racecourse every March, upwards of 60,000 people pack the stands, have a flutter and cheer on the action below.

The venue is now set to feature at the heart of a much bigger project in the lead up to the World Expo which will take place in the emirate in 2020.

The plan is to build a high-end, mini-city around Meydan, stretching all the way to Dubai's nearby financial district and the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

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Stage one of this complex process has seen the racecourse transformed into a year-round destination.

First came the grandstand, a statement construction over one kilometer long that opened in 2010. The five-star Meydan Hotel was completed in the same year. Then followed an IMAX cinema, school, tennis center, school and golf course.

"(In) 2005 I came here ... there was no thought of Meydan or developments. It was just horse racing," said former CEO of Dubai Racing Club, Frank Gabriel.

"All of a sudden within six months we were building a master plan of a race track and a city and the next thing you know we never stopped moving."

With each addition, Meydan's purpose has extended beyond its equestrian origins.

Stage two is by far the most ambitious element of the project and will feature the development of 1,500 villas over 16 million square meters (172 million sq ft).

The vast housing site -- named Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City after the ruler of Dubai -- will include parks, lagoons, waterways, jogging tracks, beaches and woodlands.

The development aims to take the thoroughbred lifestyle Meydan seeks to embody and recreate it on a massive scale.

"Horse racing and equestrian is the heart and soul of Meydan," said Saeed Al Tayer, chairman of Meydan Group. "That will always be in our pedigree. But developing a city ... it puts us on the global map."

Four to eight bedroom villas here will cost $6,200 per square meter ($579 per sq ft), that's more 40% above the Dubai average according to real estate consultancy CBRE.

The next race at Meydan, it seems, will be finding the well-to-do residents and investors willing to pay these higher rates for the luxury mini-city experience.

See also: Can tiny emirate outshine Dubai?

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