Atlantis Dubai to rise from the ashes
Posted by 7starsdubai on September 6, 2008
In the early hours of Tuesday, Alan Leibman was sleeping soundly in one of the plush guest rooms of the landmark Atlantis The Palm hotel.
Perhaps he was dreaming of the fanfare that would surely welcome the resort as final preparations were made for its grand September 24 opening.
But what he could not have foreseen was being woken suddenly by an alarm that heralded the worst of news – fire had broken out in the hotel’s $6m (Dh22.2m) lobby roof.
Leibman, Atlantis The Palm’s manager, and more than 200 senior executives, consultants and staff were all sleeping at the hotel; each room undergoes thorough dress-rehearsal testing before the first guests arrive.
Fifteen minutes after the fire alarm went off, all personnel had been evacuated and fire crews had arrived to control what was now an inferno pumping acrid black smoke into the early morning skies over Dubai. Only a few hours later, with the flames doused, did the full horror become clear. Now, only a few days later, and the damage caused has been estimated at around $20m.
Leibman, President and Managing Director for Kerzner International, the firm behind the $1.5 billion Atlantis The Palm, told Emirates Business: “I was staying at the hotel at the time and was woken by the fire alarms at 6.45am. By 7am, everyone was out and the Dubai and Nakheel emergency services were quickly on the scene.”
“Once all staff were safe, I phoned Sol [Kerzner, CEO of Atlantis-owner Kerzner International], waking him up. He asked if any personnel had been hurt, and he said all resources would be made available to start the salvage operation.”
Yet, despite what some would consider a crippling setback to one of the grandest openings yet seen in Dubai, staff at Atlantis, Kerzner, and developer Nakheel remain determined to open to the public on schedule.
What lies ahead for Leibman and his team is a series of significant challenges to rebuild Atlantis The Palm’s lobby.
The ‘to do’ list of repairs – on top of the daunting final preparations any hotel goes undergoes – includes clearing away burnt debris, rebuilding the domed roof, cleaning damaged curtains and carpets, replacing lobby computers, pumping out water from lift shafts and scrubbing clean the hotel’s blackened exterior arches.
Once the fire was under control, Atlantis assembled its development team, headed by Jim Boocher, to assess the initial damage and agree an action plan. Leibman said it was fortunate the fire was contained within the roof and caused no structural damage.
Ninety per cent of the lobby is made of stone, so the flames only affected two major carpets, both of which have been removed for professional cleaning.
“First of all the water was pumped out of the lobby and the public spaces,” said Leibman. “Amazingly, the front desk was left perfectly intact and more importantly, the Chihuly hand-blown glass centrepiece, which was shipped to Dubai in June in 231 boxes, was also untouched.”
He denies earlier press reports that claimed the $25,000-a-night exclusive Bridge Suite – above the hotel lobby – was damaged.
Atlantis The Palm has now deployed a 1,600-strong operational workforce on site to begin the clean-up; they will work 24 hours a day until completion. Scaffolding has also been erected to enable the cleaning and re-painting of the exterior arches.
At any given time, 100 decorators will be working on the ceiling area of the lobby. Experts say that, in the days before September 24, repair teams will execute a three-phase restoration plan.
Week one’s task will be to assess and remove debris; week two will be “replace and paint”, and week three will to add the final touches to return the hotel to its earlier glory.
Industrial-strength fans are blowing day and night to dry the interior of the hotel and specialist US firm EPSCO has been flown in to rid the rooms and corridors of the carbon odour left by the fire.
One member of the on-site repair team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “There is more than just superficial damage, though, as there are concerns about structural elements of affected areas.
“Within the main lobby, the main culprit was the water used by fire crews, not the fire itself. As a result, elements of the ceiling will need to be stripped out.
“The water has also damaged the bottoms of doors on the ground floor, so teams are working to strip them off.”
Repair teams are also said to be drilling pilot holes in areas of the lobby to assess how extensive and how deep below the surface the water damage goes.
The domed ceiling, the worst hit area of the heavily damaged lobby, was made from a fire-retardant drywall material. When wet, this material can be almost impossible to dry out, the source said.
“The drywall ceiling is wet through and there are extensive areas that need to be replaced. This requires stripping it down and understanding the extent of the damage,” said the source.
Mivan Depa, a partnership between UK theme park and museum specialist Mivan and Dubai-based interiors contractor Depa, was reponsible for the lobby roof.
A spokesman said: “While the damage is extensive, there is no impediment to achieving our goals of opening on schedule.
“We were saddened by the damage as a result of the fire, and there are challenges to over come in the next few weeks, but we’re uplifted by the motivation of the Kerzner team to open on September 24.”
Atlantis The Palm is a joint venture by Nakheel and Kerzner Internation. It has 1,373 rooms and 166 suites.
A schedule of repairs
— Week 1: Assess and remove. An emergency command centre will mobilise teams to empty the ground floor of debris and water. Lift shafts will be pumped of water, and the sheet rock in the lobby will be scrubbed clean.
The hotel said two major water-soaked carpets had been sent away for cleaning. IT personnel will check front desk computer terminals. New computer equipment is being ordered and a specialist US firm clearing the ubiquitous smell of smoke.
— Week 2: Replace and repair. Industrial fans will continue to blow 24 hours a day to dry out the ground floor. Crews will work to reinstall all furniture, electrical wiring and fittings.
The hotel says a large majority of items were not being discarded, but cleaned and restored. Some furniture will be reordered. No new materials will be flown in for the roof repairs; resources available in Dubai will be used.
— Week 3: As opening day nears, all fixtures and fittings will be back in place and only intricate decorations will be left to repair. Construction experts say by this stage the hotel should be well on the way to full recovery. All curtains and carpets will have been cleaned and will be in the process of being relaid and rehanged.
Overall, experts say it will cost up to $20 million in restoration, replacement and labour to correct the damage at Atlantis The Palm.
The fire that swept through the lobby roof of the soon-to-be-opened Atlantis The Palm is nothing owner Kerzner International has not faced before.
Alan Leibman, President and Managing Director of Kerzner, said he spent 10 years fighting hurricanes at the original Atlantis, in Nassau, Bahamas, with owner Sol Kerzner.
“Sol and I, along with development manager Jim Boocher, spent years fending off the weather at our Atlantis Bahamas resort. This week is nothing we haven’t been through before.”
He said his team had been well-prepared for The Palm fire and the quick evacuation early on Tuesday had been testament to the procedures Atlantis had in place.
Just a day after the fire, Leibman said the hotel had hosted a 350-person dinner at one of Atlantis’ sixteen restaurants while reconstruction worked continued. How to prevent a similar disaster will only be discussed at an Atlantis The Palm ‘postmortem’ meeting, to take place in the near future, Leibman said. The Atlantis Bahamas is located on Paradise Island, near Nassau airport, 45 minutes’ flight from Miami, Florida.
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