Island living: Communities are being built from scratch as development spreads to new areas

While Abu Dhabi Island has traditionally been the centre of the capital city – the site of much of the emirate’s commerce, as well as many of its hotels and retail facilities – planning authorities have for some time worked to relocate some of this activity to outlying areas, including several nearby islands. This has created numerous opportunities in the real estate and construction sectors, with entirely new communities being built in previously uninhabited areas. Four of the main islands under development – Al Maryah, Reem, Yas and Saadiyat – are at various stages of completion, but each offers ample room for growth looking ahead.

AL MARYAH: As envisioned in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan, a document produced by Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council, Al Maryah Island (formerly Sowwah Island) will be at the centre of Abu Dhabi City’s new Central Business District (CBD). Located between Reem Island and the downtown area of Abu Dhabi, the island is being modelled on some of the world’s leading mixed-use business districts.

According to master developer Mubadala Real Estate & Infrastructure, the island will eventually have a mixture of commercial and residential areas, luxury hotels and retail facilities, in addition to a number of landscaped parks and pedestrian-friendly spaces. In total, the island will be home to 30,000 residents and have a daily working population of approximately 75,000. Al Maryah has also been classified as an investment zone, which means that UAE and GCC nationals can purchase freehold land on the island, while other foreign investors can obtain long-term leasing musataharights (the legal right to build on another person’s land) and long-term leases for individual units and floors of buildings.

PHASES: The island is being developed in phases, the first of which involves building Sowwah Square, with Saudi Oger leading the construction. The development comprises four office towers, each standing between 30 and 36 storeys, with combined leasable space of 180,000 sq metres. The grade-A buildings encircle the new headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. Tower 1, Al Sila, on Sowwah Square, was delivered in March 2011, with the remaining three handed over during the first quarter of 2012. Leasing has been extremely positive, with 89% of the Al Sila and 60% of Al Maqam (Tower 3) leased to global blue chip firms. Meanwhile, adjacent to Sowwah Square, two luxury hotels are under development. The first, the 34-storey Rosewood Abu Dhabi, will have 189 guest rooms and suites, 58 serviced residences, 73 residences for annual lease and four penthouses. Construction – which is being led by local contractor Arabian Construction Company – is nearing completion in preparation for pre-opening fit out. A formal opening date will be announced nearer completion. Also among the first phase of work on Al Maryah Island is Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which is being built by a joint venture of Six Construct and Samsung.

REEM: Located 300 metres off the north-eastern coast of Abu Dhabi City next to Al Maryah Island, Reem Island covers 8.8m sq metres. Reem will be home to a number of commercial and residential buildings, as well as schools, medical clinics, malls, hotels, gardens and beaches. Nearly 200,000 people are expected to live on the island, and as is the case with Al Maryah Island, foreign nationals can buy property on an extendable 99-year leasehold basis. The Reem project is being led by three master developers: Tamouh Investments, Sorouh Real Estate and Reem Investments. The primary project for Tamouh, which owns 60% of the island’s land, is Marina Square, a mixed-use development covering 26.4 ha that has 16 high-rise towers (13 residential, one commercial, one office and one for serviced apartments), and 24 townhouses over a built-up area of 1.3m sq metres. All 3440 residential units at Marina Square have now been delivered. When complete, Marina Square will include a boutique mall, medical clinics, a five-star hotel and food and beverage outlets. All of these facilities are expected to be ready by 2013.

Meanwhile, Sorouh is the master developer behind Shams Abu Dhabi, a mixture of commercial, retail and residential space that will be the future home for 52,388 residents. The development includes the 74-storey Sky Tower, the 65-storey Sun Tower, the Gate Towers, the Arc building and a shopping mall. Sky and Sun Towers combined have 1154 residential units, as well as 810,236 sq feet of net saleable area of commercial office space, making them the first grade-A buildings to be delivered on Reem Island. As of May 2012 delivery at the Sun and Sky towers was nearly complete. Progress is also being made at the Gate Towers, comprising three high-rise buildings. In June 2012 the developer reported that the project was 80% complete, with construction to be finished between the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. The main contractor for the Gate Towers and the Sky and Sun Towers is Abu Dhabi-based Arabian Construction Company.

Finally, Reem Investments, like Sorouh, owns around 20% of the island and is responsible for a 184-ha development called Najmat. The $8bn mixed-use project, which is located to the south-east of the entrance to Reem Island, will house 49,524 residents and will have schools, health facilities and parks. The development will also have three marinas. As of mid-2012 Najmat was still in its early phases, with one mixed-use tower – known as Marina Bay – having opened.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Each of the three master developers on Reem may be at different stages with their respective projects, but the basic infrastructure of the island – the roads, electricity and fibre-optic lines, and sewer and water pipes that provide the backbone of any functioning community – are already in place, thanks to Bunya, a company that the three master developers jointly incorporated to plan, execute and manage infrastructure and operations on Reem Island.

Bunya’s main role is to facilitate the development of the island by coordinating between the numerous parties – both public and private – that are involved in the process. During the construction phase, the firm has been responsible for, inter alia, coordinating with local authorities on issues such as permits and the delivery of utilities. According to Tariq Hatim Sultan, the CEO of Bunya, the government approval process for permits is becoming more streamlined and regulators are working more closely with developers, which can speed up the construction process. “Previous learning curves such as obtaining permits or coordinating with other parties involved in the development process are becoming less of an issue. If this model of collaboration continues, all of the entities involved in the development process will be able to adapt quicker in the future, making Vision 2030 achievable,” he told OBG.

SAADIYAT & YAS: While the work to date on Al Maryah and Reem Islands has been mainly focused on providing residential units and office space, Saadiyat and Yas Islands have been primarily developed as touristic destinations. The former, a 27-sq-km natural island, is being positioned as a cultural centre, featuring at least three museums, including local branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre. While these cultural projects had been put on hold in October 2011, in January 2012 the government announced that new budgets and timelines for the museums had been approved, with the first (the Louvre) scheduled to open in 2015. According to the TDIC, the Saadiyat Island project is expected to be fully completed by 2020, at which point it will have leisure, tourism, retail and residential facilities, in addition to the attractions of the cultural district.

Meanwhile, Yas, like Saadiyat, will eventually have a variety of touristic attractions in addition to hotels, retail facilities, food and beverage outlets, and residential areas, according to master developer Aldar Properties. It is mainly known as the location of three of Abu Dhabi city’s primary touristic offerings, the Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park, and the Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi waterpark, as well as seven hotels. A new shopping complex, the Yas Mall, is currently under construction, with the main construction contract having been awarded to Six Construct.

Development of the islands continues to move ahead, with new projects being announced and tendered. Indeed, the islands are still in relatively early stages of development, with a number of residential, commercial, retail, hotel and other projects waiting in the wings.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

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