MAF Properties’ Mall of Oman, which will be the sultanate’s largest retail destination and a key part of its economic vision once it launches in March 2021
As Oman’s real estate market continues to feel the effect of its increasingly youthful population, retailers in the sultanate are beginning to actively tailor their offerings to meet the needs and aspirations of the country’s youth. According to a recent report by JLL, developers in Oman are intent on modernising the retail sector to drive footfall and spend, as supply increasingly moves towards large malls with unique concepts and diverse leisure and entertainment offerings.
“A number of factors are driving Oman’s retail sector, in particular the opportunities presented by evolved demands of the youth population. That, coupled with growth levers, is expected to boost demand in the long run, despite the sector’s performance being challenged,” says Dana Williamson, head of Retail, Offices and Business Space for MENA at JLL.
“In line with the regional move towards more experience-led retail offerings, there is an opportunity for developers to introduce new entertainment concepts and strategies to increase footfall and spend, and to specifically cater to the young target audience in the sultanate,” she adds.
This approach towards retail development is amply evident in the construction of Majid Al Futtaim Properties’ Mall of Oman, set to the be biggest of its kind in the country. With 145,000sqm of retail space, a variety of dining outlets and a range of lifestyle experiences, including cinemas, a family entertainment centre and the largest indoor snow park in the sultanate, the developer expects the project to form a key part of Oman’s Vision 2040.
“The tourism and retail sectors are integral to Oman’s economy and are poised to drive economic growth and contribute to diversification in the country, said Ghaith Shocair, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls, in an August statement announcing a construction update for the mall. “These objectives are aligned with Vision 2040, and we are privileged to be able to contribute to this vision as long-term partners and investors. By developing Mall of Oman, we continue to contribute to the growth of the local tourism industry and enable job creation for residents both during and post-construction. A development project of this size and scope is beneficial to Oman’s citizens and residents, and will positively contribute to economic and social development in the sultanate.”
With the mall set to open in March 2021, work on the project is proceeding apace, with the developer recently confirming the delivery of new roads and flyovers connecting the mall to Interchange No 6 on the Muscat Expressway, as well as the completion of the Muscat Electricity Distribution Company (MEDC) Primary Substation, which will allow the nine distribution substations in the mall to be progressively energised, thus allowing the completion of the central cooling plant.
The extensive roads upgrade to Interchange No 6 will ease access to the mall, along with four new bridges and an underpass, the developer adds. The interchange has been expanded to include a new lane to each of the four quadrants, so as to serve more commuters. In addition, extensive retaining walls and utility divisions have been completed to facilitate the works, while the new access will add to the convenience of visiting the mall and lead to 5,200 dedicated parking bays.
More than a kilometre of the 12-metre-high retaining walls is now in place, as is initial road directional signage for the Mall of Oman, the developer says, pointing out that the project is approximately 70% complete today, following the achievements of these two main milestones in July 2019.
“An active schedule of work streams is in place to keep us on track for the March 2021 opening. Specifically, work is underway to complete the mall roof, which includes skylights and waterproofing, while energisation of the number nine substation is also ongoing,” the developer tells Big Project ME in an exclusive progress update.
“At the same time, the team is commissioning the central cooling plant and completing delivery of the secondary chilled water for wild air. The stone flooring is also being laid, ceilings are being installed in the mall corridors, and the south car park post-tensioning concrete works are underway.”
As it will be the largest mall in the country, with the widest retail, F&B and entertainment offerings, Majid Al Futtaim Properties’ expectation is that its strategic location, easy accessibility and diverse offerings will see the Mall of Oman established as a focal meeting point for Muscat’s residents, while also serving as an anchor attraction for regional and international tourists.
The most distinctive aspect of the project is the construction of the large snow park, which will anchor the mall at its east end and will include extensive snowmaking systems. These systems are there to create and maintain temperatures of -2° Celsius in the snow park, which will house attractions including penguins and a roller glider suspended above the park.
Tendering a project of this scale and technicality in the market required a robust tender list, so as to make sure that the main contractors had the resources and expertise to deliver on the developer’s vision. “In order to meet the challenge, the selected contractor is a joint venture between CCC (Consolidated Contractors Company) and Shapoorji Pallonji – a partnership that we believe will deliver the optimal outcome for the Mall and its visitors.”
Majid Al Futtaim Properties took on the project management role itself, for faster decision-making and to maintain clear direction and open communication across the project team. Furthermore, as in all its other projects, it actively developed the retail master plan and functional layout. In the later design stages, and now during construction, the company’s in-house design studio has been working closely with the project’s international and local consultants to “apply the knowledge gained from its long-term development and management experience”.
“For example, we created trackers for work based on the agreed Clause 14 Programme, which included sequence drawings so that all team members could better understand the methodology and timing of works,” the developer tells Big Project ME. “Additionally, we’re applying building information modelling (BIM) on a weekly basis to monitor planned versus actual progress. The use of BIM in project logistics and engineering has been very helpful in mitigating any coordination issues.”
The Majid Al Futtaim Properties team invested a significant amount of time and effort in working alongside the different utility companies and authorities to make sure all design NOCs were in place before the award of the contract. Agreements were also put in place to ensure the timely delivery of infrastructure by local utility companies. These measures were among the many logistical challenges facing the project team, as the company explains.
“The site is bordered by the Muscat Expressway to the south, oil and gas pipelines to the north, Bousher Road to the east and adjoining plots to the west, which make this a complex project. However, we believe that it is critical to follow a detailed logistics plan and update it constantly, to ensure we deliver on our timelines and to a standard that is the hallmark of Majid Al Futtaim.
“To manage risk in the project, an extensive enabling works contract was awarded to divert 33kV power cables, telecoms cables and water lines, to make sure a clear site was handed over to the main contractor. The team also had to complete an extensive cut and fill exercise involving around 650m3 of rock in a short period of time, which was mechanically removed using in excess of 50 breakers at any one time. Coordinating all of this was a challenge, but one we were able to overcome given our integrated approach and focus on efficiencies,” the developer says.
Alongside the rock removal and cable, telecom and water line diversions, the developer was also required to protect oil & gas pipelines from damage during the task of widening roads. Meanwhile, before construction could begin, there was an abattoir and recreational club on the site which had to be relocated elsewhere in the city to allow for the preparation of ground works.
Beyond these tasks, a major new bridge was constructed over the live Muscat Expressway, which had to be completed without closing any lanes. Extensive road diversions were also undertaken to build a further three bridges, each were opened separately, the developer explains.
Another key aspect of the project was making sure it lived up to the sustainability standards that form a part of the company’s core values. From the very beginning of the project, the entire team was briefed about the expectations and vision for Mall of Oman, with the target being for the highest possible standards across every stage of the development to be maintained.
“We set out to achieve LEED Gold status – the international accredited benchmark for highly sustainable developments – across the project, and we have reached this objective for the design stage. We are also currently on target to achieve LEED Gold status for construction, with an extensive photovoltaic solar scheme under development for the car park shades.
“The upper car park is covered by solar panels with installed capacity of 2,300kWp, which generates around 3.6m kWh per year. Major recycling and waste diversion facilities are also being undertaken by the contractor to boost the mall’s sustainable credentials. Overall, the project will achieve the LEED Gold status and we intend to aim for a Platinum certification also, as we achieved with our development of the City Centre Me’aisem and City Centre Mirdif malls in the UAE,” the developer says.
A robust HSE policy is also in place, implemented by Majid Al Futtaim Properties itself. A full-time HSE manager has been employed on the project, working alongside the consultant’s HSE managers to guarantee that the developer’s standards and policies are implemented and maintained by all contractors.
“Our team undertakes labour accommodation audits to ensure the worker’s facilities meet our strict requirements, while weekly site walks are completed by senior HSE members with full representation from Majid Al Futtaim Properties, the consultants, and contractors directly involved in the project.”
As the project continues to progress towards completion, it becomes clear that Mall of Oman will show the way forward for the sultanate when it comes to delivering projects of this size and scale. However, its impact will clearly be most powerfully felt in the country’s still nascent retail sector; it is likely to set the standard for years to come, just as the developer intends.
It concludes: “Thanks to the size and quality of Mall of Oman’s retail, entertainment and F&B offering, the development will set a new benchmark of quality in the sultanate for every kind of visitor we will attract. The mall will provide luxury alongside value and represent so much more than simply a place to shop, but a place to create great moments between people every single day.”