PARIS IN ARABIA

Qatar 2019 | RETAIL & LIFESTYLE | INTERVIEW

With 90% of the world's foremost luxury brands on board, the high street brands are the next target in sight for Qatar's most ambitious shopping center to date.

Sean Kelly
BIOGRAPHY
Sean Kelly is a seasoned real estate professional with over 27 years of experience. His expertise ranges from master planning, to residential and urban design, to business strategies. Prior to his current position, Kelly worked extensively for Majid Al Futaim, the leading shopping mall, retail, and leisure holding company. Before investing his expertise in the Middle East, he worked as the State Design Manager at Stockland and as an Urban Designer at Sunland Group in Australia. Having worked throughout the MENA region, Kelly has developed an in-depth understanding of the region’s cultural nuances. He recently undertook the Real Estate Management Program at Harvard Business School, completed his MBA in 2012, and holds a BA in urban and regional planning.

How did your professional history help form the foundation of Place Vendôme?

I have worked with large areas of land and mixed-use developers, both here in the Middle East and Australia before that. While in this region, one of my main mandates was to go around the region and find good locations for mixed-use developments. Location will always remain a key factor in real estate. This is perhaps more important because the model being developed in the Middle East over the last 10-15 years has been based on a retail, leisure, and entertainment destinations rather than just a mall and hotels. Place Vendôme is one such destination. Experience tells us that once the location is right, the access, parking, and layout are the next big issues to get right. Hence, when I got the opportunity to join the Place Vendôme team five years ago, the first thing we did was look at this project primarily from those perspectives.

What will make this development successful?

Typically, a mall of this scale is called a super-regional mall. From a master planning perspective, the best location for these malls is on the arterial roads ideally in a newer part of the city where you will not be confined by congestion issues, especially traffic. A mall like this can generate 4,000 cars in and 4,000 cars out at peak times, and we have to be able to manage this. We saw there was great planning for Lusail, and it was less than 10km from the center of Doha. It was a new master plan, we had some flexibility, and it was a government developer. It ticked all the boxes from a security of tenure perspective and was very well laid out and designed. We also noticed that the North of Doha was underserved in terms of major retail components, and the retail market in general was growing in Qatar. All the ingredients for success were there. Our development is a 230,000sqm mall with up to 585 retail and F&B outlets, state-of-the-art cinemas, an 18,000-sqm family entertainment center, as well as fountain and laser shows at the central entertainment amphitheater. We have also developed two five-star hotels, Palais Vendôme, a luxury collection hotel, and Le Royal Méridien, plus a serviced apartment complex, Le Royal Meridien Residences. This will be the essence of commercial mixed-use development and will be the retail, leisure, and entertainment place to be, not just in Lusail but in Qatar.

Why was United Developers uniquely equipped to execute a development on this scale, and where did the inspiration for the project come from?

Place Vendôme is a project of United Developers, a group of four Qatari investors who partnered to align their expertise in retail, real estate, construction, and contracting. Abdulaziz M. Al Rabban, who also created Villaggio in Doha, clearly realized before anyone else that a themed development in the right location is attractive for retailers. This Parisian-inspired development is reminiscent of the famous high-end shopping street in Paris, Rue de la Paix, of which Place Vendôme is the starting point. The architecture is intended to embody luxury and extravagance while conveying a touch of culture and artistry, setting the tone for the entire shopping experience. When we did our first roadshow in Europe in 2014, the brands we wanted in the mall immediately saw how they could be part of this story. Nothing they were doing was inconsistent with this idea of a little bit of Paris in Arabia. The brand buy-in was fantastic. It was not the usual architectural approach to shopping centers, which tend to be a bit boxy and generic. Having brands connect with the concept was important because, inevitably, there needs to be a story to communicate, not just the technical features of the development. We have found the greatest success in communication happens when we are able to speak directly with the brands rather than through a third party.

What retailers have already committed to Place Vendôme?

The construction of close to 1,000,000sqm was completed by mid-2016, and the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing works are 90% ready on site. The external landscape and street works are underway, and the skylight construction is complete. Our first major luxury brand signed a lease agreement in October 2016, since which we have signed 90% of the world's luxury brands. Now we must secure the high street brands. We are set to open in 2020, and nearly 70% of our space is committed to.