What are the latest updates for the projects currently under development?
Dubai is one of the fastest-growing cities, and we are trying to create communities in which people feel good about living and working. This is especially true for the One Za'abeel project, an iconic addition to our portfolio and to the city that will be completed by end of 2021. It's a mixed-use project built on a 230,000sqm gross floor area consisting of two towers, A and B standing at 300 and 235 meters respectively, and a panoramic sky concourse dubbed “The Link" suspended perpendicularly to both towers. The Link, which is being constructed in six different stages will house the largest cantilever in the world and will be a must-visit destination. Tower B is purely residential while Tower A is a mix of luxury serviced residential and grade A office space and will include One & Only One Zaabeel, Dubai's only urban resort, in a vertical and unique concept. One Za'abeel embraces cutting-edge development and new technologies. People might perceive this project as an island, but it is connected by two bridges offering excellent connectivity to the nearby World Trade Center and Zaabeel Park. It is an excellent community for people to live and work in. We will offer extensive amenities including restaurants with Michelin-quality chefs. We are also working on an experience in the Link that will prompt people from all around the country and the world to visit it.
What makes One Za'abeel and Ithra's approach unique in Dubai's real estate development space?
One Za'abeel represents the future of mixed-use developments. Today, businesspeople want to work and live in the city; they want to walk to their jobs and then walk to the park to meet their families. Families want to have a good lifestyle while not being disconnected from the city. We promote sustainably by integrating work and leisure together. This is what this project embodies. Ithra in Arabic means “to enrich," and this is what we are doing with this project. We are enriching Dubai's resident and visitor communities. We are working to create something simple and timeless. Our architectural aesthetic is simple in terms of design, but highly complex from an architectural standpoint. I have been involved in many projects in Dubai, but this is the most complicated engineering project I have been engaged in. While designing this project, we spent a great deal of time studying the impact of the structure. We studied the environmental and shading effects of the building. We are also working on acquiring LEED Gold certification.
How do projects like Za'abeel and Deira contribute to Dubai and enrich the community and economy of the Emirate?
When we initiate a new project, we make sure we bring something that will improve the lives of people who live in the area, ensuring that our developments positively augment existing communities. We focus on sustainability as evidenced by our Deira Enrichment Project where we prioritized green spaces over cement blocks, identified missing elements and expanded the fabric of the community while respecting the culture and history of Deira. By implementing this project, we were able to pay homage to the place. To create natural air flow, we considered the direction of the wind. We decided against car parking on the roof of car parks, for instance, in order to use that space for greenery and leisure. We are planting across the roofs of the buildings to maximize sustainability. Property developers typically jump at the opportunity to start laying brick after brick without thinking of the impact on the community, but here we spend years thinking and planning before we lay the first brick.
What was the thinking behind the Deira Enrichment Project, and how was the planning process?
We traveled, visited and learned about beautiful cities across the world to bring new ideas and incorporate them into Dubai. Then, we looked at Deira very closely as well, because we understood that the structure of the location had to be accounted for in every step. We compared everything we had experienced in cities across the world, assessed the gaps in the community infrastructure in Deira, and weaved in the history and context of Deira to make sure the project addresses every area. We listened to all stakeholders in Deira before breaking ground, and this is one of the reasons why this project is so successful. This is only the first phase of the project, and we expect to have even more robust and substantive discussions moving forward. Similar to One Za'abeel's proximity to public transport, the Deira project already includes two metro stations and we are now building the first integrated transportation hub with buses, taxis and metro stations in one single location. The government allocated a large capital to the metro system, and our role is to ensure that the top-side development will maintain the viability of that investment. Phase 1 of the project will serve 8,000 residents and an additional 4,000 staff. The first delivery will be towards early 2020 and we are hoping to finish the project by the end of 2023.
Do you see other developers adopting a similar approach to Ithra?
We have been mandated by the Investment Corporation of Dubai to look at both the bottom line and our added value to the Emirate, and others are starting to think along the lines of this formula that ensures a win-win to all. The positive impact is easily assessed in the context of Deira Enrichment Project for instance through the growth of economic activity. Deira accounts for around 10% of Dubai's GDP with its proximity to education, business, and healthcare facilities and its “Waterfront Market', and our project aims to expand the economic activity in this area. The Waterfront market, a unique food market and one of the largest in Dubai accommodates an average daily footfall of over 30,000 people. We are also planning to build two more schools in phase 2 of the project. We want everyone in Deira to benefit from the Deira Enrichment project.
Moving forward, what is your vision for Dubai's real estate and property development?
The government has taken many initiatives to reduce the cost of living, and we want to make sure that our developments advance the economy and our communities as well as benefit the environment. We will maintain our growth trajectory as we mature while espousing the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with a focus on attracting new investments, encouraging small businesses and on creating an enriching community that connects people.