Construction Week Visits Al Maryah Central

Abu Dhabi, 07 Aug 2016

Real estate projects of vast size and daunting complexity are the highlights of the Abu Dhabi skyline, and the upcoming Al Maryah Central is no exception. The huge $1.5bn development, spread across 334,450m2, will include a 260,128m2 regional shopping centre anchored by two US-based department stores, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. The integrated development will boast a comprehensive merchandise mix, including extensive family entertainment options, a 20-screen cinema, a health club, and an enviable collection of retail and food and beverage (F&B) offerings, all set in a beautiful architectural setting.

In addition to a food hall, Al Maryah Central will host a collection of more than 100 dining options, including al fresco cafés, bistros and fine dining restaurants, overlooking a striking waterfront promenade and situated among landscaped outdoor space. The development will also feature two 37,161m2 towers; one with a five-star hotel and serviced apartments, and the other with luxury residences.

Due to be completed in 2018, Al Maryah Central will be connected to more than 114ha business and lifestyle destination on Al Maryah Island. The vibrant urban hub will also include the Abu Dhabi Global Market Square, comprising The Galleria on the island, four ‘Grade A’ commercial towers, Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi, new headquarter office towers for both the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Al Hilal Bank, Maryah Plaza’s luxury residential towers, and the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Developed by Gulf Related, the entire district will be highly accessible and directly interconnected by air-conditioned passageways, and serviced by over 7,000 parking spaces and 13 bridges. In its entirety, the project comprises nine storeys of development — four levels below Al Maryah Island’s elevated road system and five storeys above, while to the project’s rear will be two large bridge spans linking across to the existing car park structures for Abu Dhabi Global Market Square and The Galleria developments.

Gulf Related is a partnership between Gulf Capital, a Middle East-based alternative asset management firm, and Related Companies, which is one of the largest private real estate development and investment firms in the United States.

Ground was first broken on the project in November 2014, and the excavation of the site and the foundation works began in January 2015. Construction on the project site began in August 2015, with Brookfield Multiplex being named as the main contractor. Under the $425m contract, Brookfield will build the mall, in addition to 400 other retail stores, 100 restaurants and cafés, and a 20-screen cinema complex.

Kevin Ryan, chief operating officer and managing director of Gulf Related, says: “We are completely focussed on the development and the commercial aspect of the project. In terms of construction activity, we are doing quite well, and have advanced a lot. For the piling works, we have appointed UAE-based NSCC.”

The shoring was executed by Bauer Equipment, the operating arm of the German manufacturer, while the piling was produced by NSCC. “In terms of the building activity, we are working with around 18 to 20 subcontractors to make the work progress faster. So, while we conducted the piling works, we concluded our tender process and selected Brookfield Multiplex (BM) as our main contractor.”

The structure has been awarded 1 Pearl Estidama rating by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) for adhering to sustainability standards. “We have adopted all the international practices for achieving our enhanced targets for energy efficiency,” says Ryan. Another important aspect of the project is that it is located in a highly secure area, generally considered to be the financial district of Abu Dhabi, since it is home to the Abu Dhabi Global Markets and some of the top names in the banking sector.

Ryan points out that they had to adopt special safety and security measures under the current UPC guidance, since the project is considered to be “a special one”. “We had to adopt special safety and security measures, since we are located in a highly secure area. We will be creating some access to the car parks, drop-offs, so that we can prevent any potential incidents or threats from bombs or [other] devices.

“It will very much be on par with any high-end developments in London or New York. We have been working collaboratively with the UPC to reposition certain parts of the building, and include robust enhancements to the main atrium.”

An all-star cast of design and consultancy parties on the project include design architect as Elkus Manfredi Architects, with Gensler & AECOM as architects of record, the Rockwell Group on F&B, and WSP and Thornton Tomasetti as the local engineering partners.

Most of the raw materials used in the project have been sourced locally, according to the developer. “We have been buying local materials whenever possible. Stone was brought in from Oman, and steel was used from a local company, Emirates Steel. We believe in promoting locally made stuff,” Ryan states.

The construction schedule for the entire project is around 33 months, according to the developer, and Ryan says that they are leaving “no stone unturned” in meeting the deadline. Around 6,000 workers are currently present at the construction site, with another 2,000 to be added during the fit-out stage. “A lot is happening at one time; we are around 23% complete as a whole.

“We are also pressing ahead with the high-rise residential tower, and want to finish it with the mall. We have already signed a deal for the hotel and are proceeding with the planning. The whole idea is to finish everything within the schedule.” He continues: “To keep things on track, we obtained the approvals from the authorities really early. We are pretty well-organised in terms of logistics, supply chain management. And not to forget, we’ve got a great partner in Brookfield Multiplex.”

But a project of such magnitude comes with its own set of challenges. Ryan admits that there have been quite a lot of hurdles to tackle so far. “There are some inevitable challenges that we are bound to face. Someone will ask you to modify something, and the entire thing would need to be re-done. We have tried to incorporate every single detail to the best of our abilities.

“So, if you have any developer that says their project work is going on without any challenges, then they are not telling you the whole truth. We have faced multiple difficulties, and I believe there will be further ups and downs in the schedule. The bigger challenge will be when the 400 tenants will be coming in. But we are ready for that.”

Storm water drainage has also been included in the project, since “it is a mandatory recommendation from the authorities,” Ryan says.

The shopping mall boasts two leading department stores from the US — Bloomingdale’s and regional debutant Macy’s. The signing of the 23,044m2 Macy’s to open at Al Maryah Central marks the first time the company will open a store outside of the US. The opening of the 21,462m2 Bloomingdale’s is the first store to open in Abu Dhabi and the second store in the UAE.

Each of the flagship stores will be divided across four levels, offering residents and visitors to Al Maryah Central access to the apparel, accessories, home and beauty brands that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are famous for worldwide.

Both of the Al Tayer Group’s anchor department stores are assigned to go vertical first. The aim for this is to allow ample time for the fit-outs ahead of the hundreds of subcontractors that will descend to furnish the main mall’s 400 retail stores, 100 F&B venues, and cinema complex.

Ryan says: “Both the department stores will be handed over in January 2017. Escalators have already been installed for Bloomingdale’s, while Macy’s will take another two to three months. The whole idea is to stay on schedule.

“Hypermarkets are normally the anchor, so it’s a different philosophy. At Macy’s, the fifth floor is a sort of a lifestyle and F&B concept; at Bloomingdale’s, a hotel lobby will extend out over the rooftop.”

In terms of the overbuild, the developer is building a retail centre and park on one, and a sports and outdoor retail concept and park on the other. Ryan says: “This will act as an investment in our community. We will have F&B options in specific areas of the park, which will be open 24/7. We will also be building a library, prayer rooms and a daycare facility as well.”

The developer boasts an impeccable health and safety (HSE) record, which Ryan says amounted to five million man hours. “We have developed an incentivised programme for the entire staff and the management. Each of them gets an award at the end of the month for following the correct guidelines.”

To provide senior debt project financing for the construction, Gulf Related entered into a $626m (AED2.3bn) agreement with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB). The financing deal is the largest of its kind in the region for Gulf Related. Financing by ADCB will fund a portion of the development cost of the mixed-use retail development and is viewed as an important milestone in the progress of the project.

In a press statement issued by the developer last year, it said: “We are very pleased to have secured the financial backing of ADCB for Al Maryah Central, one of the most anticipated developments in the region. This financing continues a long-standing partnership with ADCB and we are proud to be collaborating with them on this exciting project. Securing the full financing marks another key milestone in the construction of the project and further underscores our ability to deliver this high-quality development on schedule.”

Already a year into the schedule, Ryan says that once things are nearing completion, the place will be buzzing with activity. “The marble and tiles will be finished in another six to eight months.

“There is a lot of pre-planning going on, we have appointed a team of 30 to 40 people, who co-ordinate with the tenants in order to get everything design-approved.”

He concludes: “We have previously worked in Abu Dhabi — we know the challenges and the pitfalls with regards to such a huge project — and we are up for it. We have got a good team and we look forward to meeting our deadline.”

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