Of course I took the opportunity to visit the brand new Mirdiff City Centre and the not so new Dubai Mall.
Majid Al Futtaim has done a wonderful job at Mirdiff, creating an easy-to-understand racetrack configuration with an upscale fitout and tenant mix second to none -- assuming you like international fashion brands. It is anchored by a Carrefour hypermarket, two food courts and a Play Nation entertainment concept that combines theme park, bowling alley, indoor soccer and other attractions.
In a place with such a shiny reputation for overbuilding and bloat, this centre is a genuine achievement. It's intuitive, well merchandised and yet manageable in its dimensions. Like Mall of the Emirates, another MAF product, it's a pleasant place to be out of the brutal heat.
Dubai Mall is a different story entirely. It is too big and duplicative, isn't easy to navigate and has too many design features that almost make it but don't quite hit the mark. Parts of it just shouldn't be there at all. The remarkably cavernous and empty gold souk, for example, is an embarrassing joke that will now have to be replaced, possibly with another department store that isn't required since the centre already has a Bloomingdale's, Debenhams, Galeries Lafayette, Marks & Spencer and Paris Gallery. But endless duplication seems to be the name of the game.
Speaking of Bloomingdale's, it's a beautiful store though and even the Debenhams is impressive by international standards.
Both centres were very busy, although it was a Saturday and if they weren't busy on a Saturday it would spell certain trouble. The pressure will be on some of the older centres now to lift their game.
The interesting thing about Dubai is that broadly speaking it is still not over-retailed compared to other places, particularly the US and a lot of US cities (e.g. Las Vegas). The big difference is that most of Dubai's retail floorspace is in very large centers, whereas so much US space is tied up in smaller neighborhood centers and mid-sized community and power centers. Time for Dubai to start branching out, although building small isn't exactly consistent with the culture.