Abu Dhabi goes from strength to strength

With Abu Dhabi’s development potential starting to be realised, Christopher Sell profiles some of the major projects that are set to shape the UAE capital’s future

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By  Christopher Sell Published  December 30, 2006

|~|152ad200.gif|~|With the development of Aldar’s Al Raha Beach and the development of Al Reem Island (above), Abu Dhabi is maximising the potential of its development area and stealing the spotlight from Dubai.|~|Having sat back and observed its more extrovert neighbour attract all the headlines over the last few years, Abu Dhabi is finally securing the sort of iconic developments that will ensure its position as one of the foremost destinations in the Middle East. And with US $100 billion (AED367 billion) of projects in hand, Abu Dhabi is certainly ready to launch its own assault on the dynamic Middle East property market. While it is recognised that the shift in thinking in Abu Dhabi coincided with the relaxing of property laws, allowing UAE nationals to own and trade land in Abu Dhabi for the first time (GCC nationals were permitted to do so within designated areas while expatriates could invest 99-year leases within these zones), it is worth remembering also that, as a city, Abu Dhabi has the highest per capita income in the world ($46,185), so it should comes as little surprise that it is finally manifesting this with tangible developments. Of the raft of projects currently underway in the capital, the most high profile are the $27 billion Saadiyat Island tourism project, the $18 billion Al Raha Beach, and the multi-billion dollar Al Reem Island project featuring Sorouh’s Shams Abu Dhabi flagship project with its 83-storey Sky Tower. Just recently Aldar Properties, one of Abu Dhabi’s leading developers, and Laing O’Rourke, a leading construction group, have formed a joint venture to deliver properties on Al Raha Beach. Known as Aldar Laing O’Rourke, its first project is the construction of residential and commercial property on the site. This prestigious development is located near Abu Dhabi International Airport at the entrance to Abu Dhabi City, and will occupy a 500ha site, currently being expanded through land reclamation. Al Raha Beach is a mixed-use scheme covering residential, commercial, retail and leisure facilities, with an overall total development value of some $18 billion. The development is divided into a number of smaller communities each offering a different mix of lifestyle, entertainment and business opportunities. “Al Raha Beach will be the first project to benefit from the agreement with Laing O’Rourke,” says Ron Barrott, CEO, Aldar Properties. “We intend to begin work immediately so as to take advantage of the synergies between our two businesses. We shall be expediating design, speeding procurement, building solid relationships with contractors and seeking efficiency everywhere.” “We will be using all the innovative skills and modern construction techniques that we have adopted from our experience around the world and focus them on Al Raha Beach and future developments in Abu Dhabi,” adds Ray O’Rourke, chairman and CEO, Laing O’Rourke. The development, which will stretch 5.2 million m2 along the Khor Al Raha waterway, is one of the first designated areas where expatriates can buy property within the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The development is set to become a regional attraction and major tourist destination with a planned population of more than 120,000, eight world-class hotels and fast links to the international airport. The project will be delivered over an eight to 10-year period. Aldar also recently announced plans for Yas Island, one of the largest natural islands in Abu Dhabi, to be turned into a prestigious world-class destination, with mixed-use tourist attractions including beaches, entertainment, shopping, hotels, residences, golfing, equestrian facilities and motor racing. It will also host the world’s first ‘Ferrari World’; a themed park, museum and theatre featuring attractions such as a top quality motor race track on which visitors can experience the Ferrari Driving School, kart track and dune buggies. Away from the cars, located on the island will be two major marinas and yachting facilities; resort hotels, lagoon hotels and hotel apartments; a water park, three golf courses, a polo field and equestrian centre, restaurants and mixed residences. Yas Island will spread over 2,500ha and is roughly one-third the size of the island of Abu Dhabi and features a beachfront shoreline of 32km. Infrastructure will be developed around the Yas Island project in advance and to the operational benefit of the capital city. A new 10-lane highway will connect Yas Island to the new Abu Dhabi International Airport, the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway, and the city of Abu Dhabi at Mina Port. Yas Island will also connect to Aldar’s signature Al Raha Beach development. Yas Island is positioned at the gateway to Abu Dhabi, and will target the 1.6 billion population catchment area located within six hours flying time of the emirate. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s other leading developer, Sorouh, this week launched its Central Park project, which is earmarked as a centrepiece for its Shams Abu Dhabi development. At a cost of $136 million, the 303,000m2 of open space and recreational amenities will include 12 mixed-use towers, restaurants, water canals, lakes, recreational and sports complexes. Work on the infrastructure is scheduled to begin in June, 2007, with the first phase completed in 2009 and the full project expected to be finalised by the end of 2010. The Central Park is distinguished by its central setting in the midst of other local and international developments. Its location in the special economic investment zone of Al Reem Island also affords tax free benefits on buyers as well as the ability to acquire 100% ownership. Shams Abu Dhabi was launched as Sorouh’s first prestige development. Located on Al Reem Island, approximately 300m from the northeastern shore of Abu Dhabi, it will occupy over 1.5 million m2, accounting for 25% of space on the island. Residential projects total 80% of the overall space, with the remaining 20% dedicated to commercial use and recreational facilities. Home to roughly 70,000 people, the first phase of the project is expected to be completed by 2009 with the full project completed in 2011. Mounir Haidar, CEO, Sorouh Real Estate, says: “Since it was established, Sorouh has demonstrated its commitment of adopting a comprehensive approach based on creativity in designing and developing properties. We are also committed to supporting and enhancing the growth of real estate sector in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, which will be reflected in the development of related sectors.” Abu Dhabi’s other main development is the Saadiyat Island project unveiled by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) at a cost of $27.2 billion. The 27km2 island, located 500m offshore, will be executed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) and be a mixed-use residential and tourism development project. Half the size of Bermuda, and to be completed in 2018, Saadiyat Island will become the Middle East’s largest single natural island development. The island will be divided into six districts: Cultural District, Al Marina, Saadiyat Beach, South Beach, Saadiyat Park and The Wetlands. These districts will include a total of 29 hotels, three marinas with berths for 1,000 boats, two golf courses, 38,000 apartments and 8,000 private villas. Two causeways will link the island to the city of Abu Dhabi, each a 10-lane freeway, with one providing light rail transport. Last month, a joint venture between Germany’s ED Zublin AG and UAE contractor Saif Bin Darwish picked up the $184 million contract to build the 10-lane Saadiyat Bridge highway. The joint venture fended off competition from a Korean/UAE joint venture of Samsung and Al Jaber and the Japanese/Turkish partnership between Taisei and Nurol. Construction of the bridge is due to begin by the end of the month. With so many projects in hand, Abu Dhabi is poised to receive the construction baton from Dubai and it is clear that 2007 is a very important year for the emirate’s capital city. Only time will tell whether the legislative changes and key projects are enough to attract those who until now only had eyes for Dubai.||**||

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