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Site visit: First Avenue Mall and Hotel, Dubai Motor City

Designed as a two-storey structure, the mall will have a built-up area of around 30,000sqm

Back in the late 1990s, just as Dubai was taking its first steps towards becoming the global mega-city it is today, no one would have imagined that there would be much life outside the city’s core areas. In those days, the city and its residents congregated around the creek, creating the bustling and vibrant districts of Deira and Bur Dubai.

However, this growth came at a price, quite literally. As competition for living spaces became more and more intense, developers and residents alike began looking for new places to live. This led to the creation of what locals call New Dubai, which is anything beyond the Dubai World Trade Centre.

As the years ticked by and the population of the city continued to grow, even these new developments became increasingly unfeasible, and people once again began looking for new areas to live. Where there was once nothing but barren sand, pockets of civilisation began appearing, creating residential communities of identikit villas and townhouses that formed satellite suburbs to Dubai’s main arteries.

One such community is Dubai Motor City, a mixed-use development by Union Properties that is home to the Dubai Autodrome, residential units, retail outlets and business towers. While the Autodrome was completed in 2004, the completion of the rest of the development took a little longer, with handover of the residential units in UpTown Motor City only commencing in 2009.

Even now, there remain elements of the community that remain uncompleted, with plans for a hotel and theme park left abandoned halfway through construction. Like many other projects in Dubai, the reason for the slow progress is the financial recession that shook the country in 2008/2009.

Now, however, there are marked signs of progress, not just in Motor City but also in areas around it – Arabian Ranches has undergone an extensive expansion, while projects in Dubai Sports City continue to be completed at a rapid pace. Even further afield, developments like Akoya by Damac, IMPZ and Jumeriah Village Circle have seen tremendous progress over the last few years.

These many residential developments coming up in the area are the reason that Saudi Arabian developer Al Tawfeeq for Development and Investment (ATDI) decided to enter Dubai for the first time.

“A lot of suburbs have been created, and there are a lot of communities. All of these people need services, and we have decided to bring something that will cater to the end-to-end requirements of people who are living here. That includes basic necessities like groceries, healthcare check-ups and retail needs,” a spokesperson for ATDI says during a visit by Big Project ME to the site.

While the city already has an abundance of shopping malls and retail projects, ATDI believes the project it’s launching in Dubai Motor City will come to be vital for residents in the area. The First Avenue Mall and Hotel will focus on the upper middle-class to high-end segment of the market, offering a modern, family-friendly space that will answer a number of residents’ needs.

“We’re bringing a regional shopping centre with a beautiful hotel to cater for their requirements. We’ll ensure that they find what they want,” the spokesperson from ATDI asserts. “This combination has proven to be successful wherever it’s built around the world – if you put a hotel alongside retail and healthcare. We’ve been very selective in our choices of everything – whether it’s tenants in the mall or the materials used during construction, the design of the hotel or the name of the operators and leasing agency. We’re being very selective, as this is our first retail development in Dubai.”

Designed as a two-storey structure, the mall will have a built up area of around 30,000sqm, says Abbas Saadoon, senior resident engineer for Dewan Architects, the lead consultants on the project. The total built up area for the project will be 43,000sqm on a 24,000sqm plot area, he adds.

“It is an open space. However, there is air circulation in the open space to improve the climate (within the mall). So I would say that it is semi-open,” says the spokesperson from ATDI. “There are areas that are completely covered (with air-conditioning available) and there are areas that are completely open. The open areas will have straight access to the street, so that when it’s really hot in Dubai, people can stop and go (into the mall).”

“For the shopping mall, we have retail units, restaurants and coffee shops. Of course, there’s also landscaping for both mall and hotel – we have both hard and soft landscaping,” adds Saadoon. “The mall is two floors, with about 30,000sqm of built-up area and a 342-space carpark. On-grade parking is 70 spaces, with bicycle parking also available.”

“There are also a lot of terraces,” the ATDI spokesman adds. “It is an open mall, and while the fashion in Dubai (for these types of malls) is similar, I think that the other trendy malls that have opened are meant to attract tourists. This project is more for people actually living in the area. We’re a five days a week destination, unlike the other malls, which are weekend destinations.”

With the hotel operated by the Radisson Group under the Park Inn brand, Dewan was keen to involve them from an early stage in construction, with Saadoon explaining that it was consulted during the design process with their specifications taken into consideration.

Designed as a four-star hotel, the Park Inn will offer visitors a variety of choices, from 25sqm rooms to 52sqm suites. The four-storey property will also have conference rooms and business facilities targeted at the various business surrounding Motor City. The hotel rooms will start on the second storey of the property, which will also contain a gym, spa and swimming pool on the roof.

“We believe that there are a lot of businesses coming up in the area – IMPZ, Jumeirah Village Circle and Triangle, the media production zone and so on. These guys don’t have enough options for their meeting requirements or hotel stay,” says the spokesperson from ATDI. “The hotel is also coming up to cater to visitors of families in the neighbouring areas and for social events.”

Coming to the construction of the hotel, Pivot Engineering and General Contracting was appointed as the main contractor, with Dewan Architects leading the construction programme and supervising works on-site, Saadoon says.

“Dewan is the lead consultant for the project. We provide first of all the design to the client, and then the supervision. This project has been designed by us, with sub-consultants of course, as we’re not experts in landscaping and kitchens, or something like that.

“How the scope of work goes is like this: normally we get the tender and then invite all the contractors that we know as a consultant, ones that we’ve dealt with before. We send this list of contractors to the client and then they submit their bids. At the end of the day, the project was awarded to Pivot. The price is $55.05 million.”

The project broke ground in Q2 2015, ATDI’s spokesperson says, adding that work on-site is progressing well, with the mall and hotel expected to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2017.

“During Q4 2016, we will be very happy to hand over the units to our partner tenants in the mall,” he says. “We have completed the superstructure and we’re now doing the last touch-ups of the MEP connections. The last slab was casted a week ago (from the date of the interview) and now we’re doing the last touch-ups with regards to the swimming pool of the hotel and the snagging in the superstructure. This will be followed by the glass and aluminium installation, and then we’ll be ready to hand over to tenants.”

Looking back at the construction of the project, both Saadoon and the ATDI spokesperson say the first challenge was the size and layout of the plot. While it was certainly a large space, the design team also had to contend with a kilometre-long stretch of main road running parallel to the site. Furthermore, because the mall and hotel are backed by the Dubai Autodrome, the design of the hotel had to be adapted to the shape of the plot, ATDI says. The upshot is that Dewan’s team were able to come up with a design both sleek and modern, inspired by the Autodrome flanking it.

“We are blessed with having such a beautiful piece of land in Motor City. The design has been inspired by the shape of the land. Although it was challenging to make the design as efficient as possible, we managed – through Dewan – to come up with a design that is visually impressive and modern,” ATDI’s spokesperson asserts.

“If you look at this project, design-wise, it’s like a template for me,” adds Saadoon. “This building will be unique in this area. Honestly, I haven’t seen this design, with this shape of plot. The plot is very difficult actually, but the designer has done a good job on the view and façade of the project.”

With the construction deadline not far away, of course, it’s important to ask what sort of construction methodologies were put in place for the construction programme. Both ATDI and Dewan were clear about taking a leadership role on the project, working together to ensure that the project and contractor faced as few delays and disruptions as possible.

“To be honest, we have one of the best consultants in Dubai,” says the spokesperson. “Dewan are the designers and supervisors of the work, and we – as owners – are on-site every day. We’re not ‘supposed’ to be on-site every day, but we have made ourselves available to ensure the solving of day-to-day operational issues, with planning and preparation.

“We’re not executing and finding problems and then solving them; we actually know what the problems will be ahead of time. Things are pretty much on autopilot mode at the moment, because we already know what we have to do.

“For example, next month (September) we know that we have to connect EMICOOL. DEWA has already been approved and the plant rooms are under construction, while our major anchor tenants have been signed, with their construction and technical requirements incorporated. All of this is working in a network and we’re ensuring that the details are being taken into consideration ahead of time.”

For Saadoon, being the senior resident engineer means he and his team have to keep track of what happens on-site. With a construction crew of 1,500 working in three shifts through the day and night, this means keeping a strict eye on the health and safety of everyone.

“Regarding safety, as a consultant, we put that first. So far we haven’t had anything happen, but I personally believe that safety is very important and we try to communicate that. We do this by having toolbox talks and meetings with the contractor, and especially with the safety officers of the contractors and our own. By meeting and sending letters and NCRs and site instructions, we coordinate with the contractor (to ensure safety). As well as this, we also conduct routine site visits and give verbal instructions to the contractor. For the night shift, we put staff from Dewan on, but honestly speaking, that’s not much of an issue because there’s not too much work going on during the night,” he says.

“Furthermore, we have a weekly HSE meeting where we raise issues. Here we also instruct the contractor to reduce the noise caused by using machinery (at night), as well as discussing logistical issues (related to this). The concrete in the pumps can be quite noisy, so we try to change the logistics (keeping in mind the residents). So far, we haven’t received any serious complaints.”

Saadoon adds that Dewan holds three meetings a week with the contractors and subcontractors on the project – one is technical, one is on progress of work and one is a safety briefing – where all targets and expectations are laid out.

“We have technical meetings, especially for MEP. Our project is supplied by chilled water from Emicool, and of course it is also supplied by fire-fighting systems, because we have different systems. We also have electrical works, with the low current – CCTV and the public address – and we have light control, fire alarms and so on. So we hold a weekly technical meeting as well as a progress meeting, in addition to the safety meeting.”

As a developer, ATDI also takes HSE very seriously, with the spokesperson explaining that it supports Dewan and the rest of the project team with any measures they wish to introduce. He adds that its presence on-site also allows it to help coordinate and manage the workflow.

“The good thing about this plot of land is that the right side of the mall is vacant for us. So we’ve been using that as a laydown area for the project. We also have good access to the site and we continue to cooperate with the RTA and the Motor City Community Management for the good flow of trucks and heavy equipment into and out of the site, without interrupting the residential experience of Motor City.”

As the site visit draws to a close, the spokesperson from ATDI is keen to highlight a crucial aspect that allowed the project to be completed quickly, with relatively few hiccups.

“We’re blessed that we’re constructing this mall in Dubai. Although the cost of construction is quite high – especially compared to Saudi Arabia – the clarity and efficiency of the system enables the contractors to execute major developments such as this project.

“We have tens of subcontractors on-site, working side by side, hand in hand with the main contractor to finish the project on time. Everything, from cranes to blockwork, to concrete, to steel, to wood, all the major materials are available in Dubai, and because we have the funds available, we’re able to finish up ahead of time,” he concludes.

IN NUMBERS

Name of Project: First Avenue Mall and Hotel
Project Type: Mixed-use retail and hospitality
Project Value: $55.05 million (estimated value)
Client: Al Tawfeeq for Development and Investment
Lead Consultant: Dewan Architects + Engineers
Main Contractor: Pivot Engineering and General Contracting
MEP Consultant: IAN Banham & Associates Consulting Engineers
Interior Design: Intercon
Fire and Life Safety: Locke Carey
Landscape Design: B&A Engineering
Total Project Area: 24,000sqm
Total Built-up Area: 43,000sqm
Scheduled Date of Completion: Q1 2017

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