2 dec 15  | Chicago Tribune

Saudi Arabia plans to build the world's tallest skyscraper

Dubai's superlative-loving rulers are on notice: Saudi Arabia seems to be getting serious about stealing your crowning glory.

State-linked development companies in the Red Sea port of Jeddah have agreed to pony up the money for a skyscraper flirting with the unprecedented one-kilometer mark.

That's about 3,280 feet. Or about 550 feet taller than the current record spire, Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Or well more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Or about six Washington Monuments stacked end to end.

Anyway, you get the point. The planned Jeddah Tower is a monumental undertaking that had something of a pie-in-the-sky aura when it was first rumored last decade.

The architects of the Saudi tower are Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill of Chicago, Smith confirmed in an email on Wednesday. The tower previously had been called the Kingdom Tower. In the email, Smith said it appears that his clients have changed the project's name.

The current world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was designed by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Smith led the design and subsequently left Skidmore to start his own firm.

When the Jeddah Tower was announced, it was widely considered just a bit of architectural bluster by Saudi leaders chagrined by the world-record tower taking shape over the border in the United Arab Emirates.

But it looks like Saudi Arabia could make good on its blueprints. Two major state development arms, the Jeddah Economic Co. and Alinma Investment, announced Sunday a $1.2 billion financing deal to fund the 200-story tower and surrounding developments. Plans call for the building to be completed in 2020.

Already, 26 stories are built. An observation terrace is planned for floor No. 157 of the tower, shaped like a gleaming shard.

But even more startling than the size is the timing. Saudi Arabia is in a relative slump by oil giant standards. Low crude prices have sharply cut the revenue flow from the years of triple-digit levels per barrel. Add to that the costly Saudi-led war in Yemen against anti-Saudi rebels that Riyadh claims are backed by arch-rival Iran.

So why now?

"With this deal, we will reach new, as yet unheard of highs in real estate development," boasted Mounib Hammoud, the CEO of the Jeddah Economic Co. -- clearly with pun intended as a message to Saudis and others questioning whether the country will remain the economic powerhouse of the region, or get caught in a long and draining war in Yemen.

The project also is something of a statement piece for the Saudi King Salman, who will mark his first year in charge in January. Many of Saudi Arabia's landmarks (and boondoggles) -- including hard-charging development in the Islamic holy city of Mecca -- are legacies of Salman's predecessor, the late King Abdullah.

No doubt that the nearly 80-year-old Salman hopes to be around for a possible ribbon-cutting at the Jeddah Tower.

If it happens, the tallest-skyscraper bragging rights would shift to its fifth country in a little more than a generation.

The Burj Khalifa officially took the title in 2010 from Taiwan's 1,670-foot Taipei 101 tower, which held the top spot since 2003. Before that it was the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which nudged out Chicago's 1,451-foot Sears Tower in 1998. Since 2010, some other lofty buildings have joined the ranks of the 10 top -- including the Clock Tower in Mecca and China's Shanghai Tower -- but did not crest the Burj Khalifa.