Think Big

With reclamation complete on the Jumeirah Island and Palm Jebel Ali emerging from the sea, Construction Week interviews the developer’s head of operations, Wahid Attalla.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  January 14, 2004

|~|the_palm_aerial_200w.jpg|~|Nakheel is currently focusing its attentions on the landscaping of the central frond of Palm Jumeirah.|~|Nakheel’s Palm Island Jumeirah and Jebel Ali typify Dubai’s ambitious growth agenda. Both projects are being marketed very aggressively to multinational hotel chains and private investors from the region and further afield. With reclamation complete on the Jumeirah island and Palm Jebel Ali emerging from the sea, Construction Week interviews the developer’s head of operations, Wahid Attalla.

The Palm Jumeirah will be accessible by pedestrians and vehicles from its entrance right up to the edges of the outer crescent.

Current plans show that though there is a land connection from the entrance and across the trunk to the fronds, over half a kilometre of space exists between the tips of the fronds and the crescent.

This had led to speculation that the 40 hotels on the crescent would be accessible only by boat.

However, Palm developers clarified to Construction Week that, although those wishing to access the crescent by boat are most welcome, facilities are being made available to connect the fronds to the crescent to allow for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

But, to retain the design and the form of the island, the connection would be through a sub-sea tunnel that is not likely to be visible from landside.

The tunnel will connect to the crescent from the tip of the top left frond. It will be big and wide enough to allow for vehicular traffic, said Wahid Attalla, director of operations at Nakheel, which is developing the two Palm islands.

Attalla also revealed that landscaping is due to start soon, now that the Palm Jumeirah is fully reclaimed from the sea. ||**|||~|wahid_attalla_200w.jpg|~|According to Nakheel’s Attalla, all 2002 apartments and 1800 villas on Palm Jumeirah are sold out.|~|Following are excerpts from the interview.

CW: At what stage is the tunnel project?

Attalla: The tunnel is in the tender stage. HHCP, a US architectural and design firm, has designed it.

The connection from the Palm to the crescent will be by a tunnel that will tilt to the left from the tip of the top-left frond.

The tunnel will be over half a kilometre in length and you will be able to drive across in it.

CW: The cost of reclamation of the two islands alone is estimated at a massive US $3 billion. How did you finance the project?

Attalla: There are several ways in which we are financing the project. We are doing it though our own funds, through sales, through booking amounts and instalments paid by customers and through bank finance. We have received 30% of instalment money from customers of which 10% was from the first instalment and 20% for the second that became due on the 15th December [2003].

In addition, we have signed finance deals with banks such as Dubai Islamic Bank, Mashreq Bank and HSBC and now we are negotiating with another three banks for additional finance.

CW: What is the progress of work at Palm Jumeirah?

Attalla: The reclamation of the island is 100% complete. Certain elements of the infrastructure and apartments are still being tendered and we are awarding contracts for other parts of infrastructure work and the houses. All residential units have been sold out.
Our target date is to have them completed by the end of 2005. All seven hotel plots on the trunk are sold.

CW: Where is the water and electricity going to come from? Will you have your own captive power plant?

Attalla: We will have two desalination and water treatment plants. One will be big and will be located on the landside with a smaller one on the island. Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa) will supply the electricity. We have already announced that cooling will be provided through a district cooling plant operated under a joint venture formed by Nakheel with ETA Group.

CW: What is the current activity at Palm Jumeirah?

Attalla: We are looking at landscaping, especially at the central frond. Several companies have taken areas there where they are testing different kinds of plants to assess which plants look good and which will survive on the island; and which plants are suitable for supplying.

CW: What is going to be the most active part of Palm Jumeirah?

Attalla: The heart of the Palm will be the trunk. This will be the busiest part of the island. It will house seven hotels on its main body as well as all of the 2002 apartments.

The latter will be located along the right side of the trunk. The tip of the trunk will be the marina area and this part will house an additional two hotels. The trunk will also house the shopping mall.

We are trying to architecturally blend all the developments even though developers and their designers and architects are different. At the back of the seven hotels along the main body of the trunk, will be the retail and social area with lots of restaurants and tremendous views. The shopping mall will be in the centre of the trunk and is being designed. There will be marinas scattered all around. There will be all imaginable kinds of marine activities, sports and entertainment.

CW: We understand there is a premium on Palm Jumeirah residential units?

Attalla: The response has been tremendous. All 2002 apartments and 1800 villas are sold out. In fact, there is a premium of as high as 40% on some of the properties.

CW: In contrast, we hear that Palm Jebel Ali is not selling too well?

Attalla: This talk is not true. Palm Jebel Ali is selling at its normal pace. It is unfair to benchmark any project in the world, let alone Palm Jebel Ali, alongside Palm Jumeirah sales.

Lots of buyers prefer to pay 20% to 40% premium and gain two years (the amount of time it would take for Palm Jebel to come up). Palm Jebel Ali is not fully sold out, but once people see that houses are about to be finished, the premium will go up. I know there are a lot of rumours, but I am sure that the premium there too will double if not more, once the houses are finished.

CW: Talking of rumours, it is also said that recent storms are washing away parts of the reclaimed island. Is that true?

Attalla: The people who built the Palm islands are world-class experts in marine construction, engineering and reclamation. They come from a sea-affected nation such as Holland, which has overcome the battle against the sea. The engineers, consultants and contractors live in the water and know exactly what they are doing.

Moreover, the land-enclosed Gulf is a gentle body of water. These kinds of rumours come from the same kind of people who were talking about Burj Al Arab sinking and then tilting. All three developments continue to stand tall and proud.

CW: One final point along this track. There is also talk that the two Palm islands will harm marine life and endanger the ecological balance?

Attalla: If I were to make a blunt statement and say that nothing will go wrong and that there will be no change to the shoreline; that would be incorrect.

We are introducing changes and, of course, there will be some effects. But these are not classified as disasters. No! And, do we have solutions? Yes!

Everything is well researched and calculated. Do we have surprises? Yes. But nothing to get so alarmed about. Nature does adjust itself.

We are spending a lot of money, and I want to emphasise that the whole project is well researched in all its aspects.

We have had visits from United Nations people. There have been other visits, tests and consultations.

If the Palms do anything to marine life, they will only enhance it. We are building reefs to attract marine life.

You can go to the Palm today and see the amount of birds that have made it their home. There are all kinds of sea birds there and it is a beautiful sight during sunset. There are schools of fish along the land bridge closer to the shore. The Palms have attracted an abundance of sea life. Considering all the construction that has gone on there, you can see for yourself how clear the water is.

CW: What do you have to say about the boom in projects all over Dubai?

Attalla: I am against all statements made about this being too much or too fast or that it is good or that it is bad.

Dubai is working with a plan. If you take each piece of Dubai in isolation, you might say that this is not co-ordinated. But if you take Emirates Airline, the airport or the private developers [which] are very active in big projects like Dubai Festival City or the Emirates Mall or in smaller projects everywhere, the boom is only natural and part of an overall well orchestrated growth [strategy] that is targeting business.

Projects like the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Dubai has filled gaps that existed from Asia to Europe. We as a country have proven it more than once of what we are capable of doing.||**||

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