Project profile: Deira Islands – revitalising ‘Old Dubai’

Big Project ME profiles Nakheel’s megaproject following an exclusive media tour of ongoing works

Located on the east side of the Dubai Creek, Deira has long been considered the old quarter of Dubai. It was here that the first traders built the commercial centre of the city – a legacy that still survives to this day, with the busy dhow wharf a reminder of how important this part of the city was to trade and life in Dubai.

Even though Dubai’s commercial heart has shifted to the downtown and DIFC areas, this bustling centre still plays an important role in Dubai’s economy, with tourists and local residents still coming to Deira to visit cultural landmarks and shop at prices far lower than found elsewhere in the city.

With connections to Dubai Metro and a number of direct road links, the area has seen a regeneration of sorts over the years, with the Dubai government backing the revitalisation of the Corniche area and the construction of a new fish market to supplement the existing space, one of Deira’s most well-known areas.

IN PICTURES: Nakheel’s Deira Islands megaproject in Dubai

Looking to build on this, Dubai-based master developer Nakheel launched the Deira Islands project in 2014 as a 15.3km2 waterfront development that will capitalise on the local area’s popularity and accessibility. Comprising four man-made islands off the coast of Deira, these artificial islands were once planned to be the Palm Deira, but Nakheel has now decided to repurpose them into the Deira Islands project.

They will add an additional 40km – including 21km of beachfront – to the emirate’s coastline, and offer ample scope for the development of hotels, serviced apartments and residential projects, the developer says.

As construction on Islands A and B is well underway as part of the first phase of the project, Nakheel invited a select group of journalists to visit the site and get a sense of how work is progressing on the megaproject. Ali Rashid Lootah, chairman of Nakheel, led the site tour, stating that the developments will “adhere strictly to what a city centre should be these days”.

The developer has awarded around $816.83 million worth of contracts to date, with more expected to be confirmed soon. Contractors were asked to submit bids to build the $1.08 billion Deira Islands Mall by February 20, 2017, while a tender inviting contractors to bid for work on the $1.36 billion Deira Islands Boulevard site, which contains 16 residential towers available on lease, was issued in January 2017.

Once complete, it is expected that 250,000 people will live on the islands, which will also be home to 557,418sqm of Nakheel-developed retail space.

“There will be a few freehold options made available by year-end, mostly for commercial plots,” says Lootah. “But the emphasis of this development is going to spread between hotels, retail and residential.”

The Night Market

The first phase of development will include the development of a night market, which will include 5,300 units and 96 cafés and restaurants, and will stretch along a 2km, 400m-wide site, Lootah said. The $427.4 million project will face the Deira shoreline and be ready for fit-out by the first half of 2018, with the public opening scheduled for the end of that year.

“The rates we have leased the units at were very attractive,” Lootah says. “People know what the rate is in Deira, so people who had a vision – they jumped on it. The market will have everything [in terms of retailers]. We wanted to give it a proper souk concept, not make it a mall. But naturally, with time, it’ll regulate itself. People of certain activities will enter [and the retail profile will change accordingly]. That’s why we called it the Night Market, not the Night Souk.”

IN PICTURES: Nakheel’s Deira Islands megaproject in Dubai

At present there are around 2,750 people working on the site, which has UNEC as the main contractor and is set to be the world’s largest night market, Nakheel says. It will be the first component of the Deira Islands development to open to the public. Lootah explains that the project has been designed to “reinforce the imagery and old world charms of Dubai’s traditional souks”, including the narrow lanes, store-front shopping and smaller unit sizes.

“The whole area will be pedestrianised. There will be certain areas for parking, but mainly it’ll be for walking, and there’ll be a promenade along the beach.”

Of course, given Dubai’s summer temperatures, a lot of planning and consideration was given to the design, layout and cooling systems of the Night Market. While the plan was always to push more natural cooling, Lootah does concede that some air conditioning will be included to help with the cooling process.

“There will be a little bit of air conditioning for comfort levels, but it is costly and it’ll affect [the cost of operation and maintenance]. And it’ll defeat the idea of a night market, which is a concept of making things more affordable – so we have to control the cost,” he explains.

“There are grilles in place that will allow natural streams of air, and it will be cooler than normal souks as we’ve put in some AC units. It’ll be between 26 degrees and 28 degrees. There will be some relief cooling, but also bear in mind that we’re only operating after sunset. The market will operate from after 5pm, to about midnight.”

Deira Islands Night Souk
• Under construction, completion 2018
• Main contractor is UNEC
• Precast contractor is HPBS
• 2,750 workforce and 180 items of heavy equipment currently on-site
• 5,300 shops, 96 quayside cafés and restaurants
• Stretches 1.9km along the waterfront
• 100% leased

Infrastructure on the Islands

Once complete, the four islands that make up the Deira Islands project will contain more than 15.3km2 of land. However, the developer has decided that only the two islands closest to Deira Corniche will be developed at present. 5.1km2 (Island A), and 3.2km2 (Island B) in size, the two projects are expected to be ready by the end of 2020.

Construction on Islands A and B is underway, with Stage One of infrastructure works completed in September 2016 and Stage Two of infrastructure now underway. Island A is expected to see Stage Two complete in 2018, while Stage Two on Island B is due for completion by 2019. The work on Island A will be carried out by contractor Wade Adams, while the Island B contractor is a joint venture between Target & Jima/Top Link.

“There’s also substation work going on,” Lootah says. “There are a total of eight substations being planned. For Island A, we have two currently under construction. We plan to phase them out, so that when people start building, we’ll complete more and more substations. November 2017 is the completion schedule for the two being built currently. For Island B, we have one substation under construction, which is being done by Siemens.”

There are currently 157 workers involved across these projects, Nakheel adds.

Meanwhile, dredging and reclamation works for Island C – the biggest, at more than 6.7km2 – and Island D have been carried out, but Lootah says there is no start date planned for their development at the moment.

“It’s a future plan,” he says. “We’re focusing on the first two islands.”

IN PICTURES: Nakheel’s Deira Islands megaproject in Dubai

• Stage 1 infrastructure (Islands A & B) completed September 2016
• Stage 2 infrastructure underway
• Island A Stage 2 due for completion 2018
• Island B Stage 2 due for completion 2019
• Island A contractor is Wade Adams
• Island B contractor is a JV between Target & Jima/Top Link

Hospitality Joint Ventures

Looking at the location of the Deira Islands site, Lootah has previously spoken about the targeted market for hospitality. Speaking in 2014, the Nakheel chairman targeted the release of 94 plots under the first phase of development, with more than 500 plots expected to be made available across the two islands. More than 23,000 hotel keys and 31,000 apartment keys would be added to Dubai’s property market once the first two islands were complete, he said at the time.

“We will be targeting three- and four-star hotel operators to build on the Deira Islands site, since there is a definite lack of waterfront hotels in that price range.”

Returning to the present, Lootah says the take-up of plots for the hotels facing the water has been positive, with more than 30 plots spoken for. These are split into the larger resort-style plots and those defined as waterfront. Nakheel has also entered into joint ventures for two resorts, while two additional deals are likely to be announced this year, he reveals.

“All the resort plots, we’re trying to keep them for Nakheel. We have joint ventures with interested parties – we’ve already signed two and we have two more in the pipeline. We’re talking to them, and hopefully this year, we’ll be able to announce them.”

Hotels with prime access to the beach or the breakwater have been assigned top priority in the project development planning, due to how they tie in with Dubai’s current strategic focus, a Nakheel official says, adding that he islands will add nearly 3,000 hotel rooms directly owned by Nakheel or its joint ventures.

In total, the developer plans to build five resort hotels on Deira Islands.

IN PICTURES: Nakheel’s Deira Islands megaproject in Dubai

Nakheel/RIU joint venture resort
• $245 million, 800-room beachfront resort
• Plot size is 315,870sqm
• Four pools, kids club, spa, fitness centre, restaurants
• Waterpark occupying 10% of overall area
• RIU currently has more than 100 hotels with 45,000 rooms in 19 countries

Nakheel/Centara joint venture resort
• $122.5 million, 550-room beachfront resort
• Plot size 27,406sqm
• Waterpark, range of dining facilities, business centre, kids club, spa, fitness centre
• Centara’s current portfolio includes 14,000 room keys across 65 hotels and resorts under six distinctive brands in Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East

Deira Mall and Boulevard

Envisioned as the heart of the master community planned by Nakheel, the Deira Mall will be home to more than 1,000 shops, cafés, restaurants and entertainment outlets, spread across 371,612sqm of leasable space. Built across three floors, the project will feature a state-of-the-art atrium with retractable roofs, and a multi-storey car park with nearly 8,400 spaces will also be built for the project, the developer adds.

Deira Mall will be the centrepiece of the Deira Boulevard project – a $1.36 billion community which will feature 16 residential towers, 2,900 apartments and retail and recreational spaces. Combined, the two projects will offer 418,063sqm of shopping space.

The Deira Boulevard project will house 10,000 people and will be a hub for residential, leisure activities and hospitality, the developer says, adding that the entire project is a crucial element of the Government of Dubai’s tourism vision.

Nakheel has released a tender for the construction of 2,924 apartments and townhouses in 16 residential towers across four clusters. Each tower will house a swimming pool and retail, restaurant and recreational facilities. A 4,500-space, podium-level car park will also be built at the development, which will have a total built-up area of more than 650,321sqm.

The Deira Islands Boulevard project is set on an area of more than 836,127sqm, the equivalent of 120 football fields. The developer explains that it intends the project to be a self-sustaining community that offers living, leisure and retail facilities, with 20% of the development dedicated to communal outdoor space such as gardens, shaded walkways and sports facilities.

IN PICTURES: Nakheel’s Deira Islands megaproject in Dubai

Deira Islands Boulevard
• Project construction tender released January 2017
• Anticipated delivery 2020
• 22 towers, including residential buildings and hotels/serviced apartments
• 2,900 apartments and around 1,000 hotel rooms/serviced apartments

Deira Mall
• Construction proposals deadline was February 20, 2017
• 603,869sqm shopping and dining destination
• 418,063sqm of leasable space (including Towers/Boulevard)
• 1,100 shops

• 15.3km2
• Will add 40km of coastline, including 21km of beach, to Dubai
• Anticipated population 250,000
• Expected to create around 80,000 jobs
• Almost 557,418sqm of retail space (by Nakheel)
• Around 3,000 apartments/hotel rooms (by Nakheel)


• October: Deira Islands unveiled at Cityscape Global

• April: AED 47 million design and supervision contracts awarded for Night Souk and Boulevard
• April: Deira Mall, Towers and Boulevard announced
• June: Deira Mall announced as AED 40 million design contract awarded
• July: Contract for eight substations announced
• November: Night Souk opens for lease, all 5,300 units booked within a week

• March: Phase 1 infrastructure begins
• May: Nakheel and Spanish hospitality giant RIU Hotels & Resorts announce planned JV
• June: AED 550 million contract for 23.5km coastal works handed to Van Oord
• July: Coastal work begins

• February: Nakheel and RIU sign JV for AED 900 million, 800-room resort
• June: AED 4 million contract awarded for sewage treatment plant
• August: Work begins on RIU resort
• September: Phase 1 infrastructure works completed ahead of time
• September: Work begins on AED 5 billion, 20-tower Deira Islands Boulevard
• October: Phase 2 infrastructure begins
• October: Nakheel and Thai hotel group Centara announce planned JV beachfront resort
• December: Nakheel completes AED 150 million access bridge in collaboration with RTA
• December: Nakheel/Centara sign JV for AED 450 million, 550-room Deira Islands resort

• January: Tender for construction of Deira Islands Boulevard is released
• February: Construction proposals to be submitted on 20 February 2017


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