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Year of the Dragon

Big Project Middle East visits Phase 2 of the Dragon Mart expansion project, which is set to be completed by the first-half of 2014. Gavin Davids reports

Phase II of the DragonMart is set to be completed by H1 2014.

Located on the Oman-Hatta highway outside of Dubai, the mammoth Dragon Mart has earned its reputation as the world’s biggest trading hub for Chinese products outside of the Chinese mainland.

On a daily basis, the 158,000sqm shopping mall sees more than 52,000 visitors passing through its doors.

Currently 1.2km long, the mall opened in December 2004 and at present has close to 4,000 retailers operating in its premises.

Fuelled by increasing demand though, Nakheel, the developer behind the project, announced in June 2012 that it had started construction work on a $272.2 million expansion of the shopping mall.

Once work on the 177,000sqm expansion is complete, the entire complex will have a total area of 335,000sqm, or the size of 47 full-size international football pitches, the developer said. The second phase of expansion will see the construction of a mall, hotel and multi-storey car park.

As the pace of construction picks up and progress on the foundations continues, Big Project ME visited the site with Engineer Mohammed Rashed Bin Dhabeah, managing director of Development, Projects, Logistics and Shared Services for Nakheel, and the man overseeing the massive construction project.

“Right now we have about 60% of the foundation of the mall completed, 80% of the foundation of the hotel completed and we’re powering ahead with development,” he explains during the site tour.

“Now we’re getting the columns up, that’s in preparation for the first floor slabs. We have a programme in place and our target is to complete the construction by the first half of next year. The fitting out stage will then start, for the tenants to fit out all their stores and be ready for the opening,” he explains.

Nakheel has signed $163.35 million in contracts for the second phase of the project since the summer of 2012, and as work continues, it is preparing to launch new tenders for further construction work, Dhabeah reveals.

“We have awarded three major contracts (so far), the shopping mall construction contract, the car parking contract and the hotel contract.”

“We have more to be awarded – the plaza, the landscaping and the mechanical units, such as chillers, pumps and such things, a central utilities plant, basically,” he says.

The tenders for these contracts will be released by the last week of March, Nakheel confirms.

“The consultant is Dar Al Handasa (which was also the consultant for Phase One),” he says, adding that United Engineering Construction is the main contractor for the mall and Kele Contracting is the contractor for the hotel and car park.

With the scheduled completion date just a year away, Dhabeah says that the amount of workers onsite will increase rapidly as construction progresses. At present there are 1,300 workers onsite daily, but he expects to reach around 4,000 workers at the peak of construction.

“There are no marked delays; we’ve signed the contracts with all the contractors. There was a time when we had to get all the NOC’s, the permits and everything. We’ve got all that and we’ve started work on the area. On the site, the activity is very rapid and very intense,” he asserts, pointing out that concrete is being poured at between 700-800m3 per day.

The parking facilities in Phase Two of the project will accommodate 4,550 vehicles, with 2,000 in the multi-storey car park, 1,750 on the mall roof and a further 800 at street level.

This will swell the total number of car parking spaces to 7,050.

Nakheel adds that 80% of the available retail space in the second phase has been taken, with tenants including major retail players such as Geant hypermarket and Grand Cinemas.

The new hotel will cover 8,500sqm and will have 240 rooms for guests. Dhabeah says that the developer is currently in talks with a select number of operators to manage the hotel.

He adds that for the most part, the project has not experienced any major issues to date due to the thorough preparations and planning carried out by the consultant and contractors; though he concedes that it is not the most complicated of projects to work on.

“I think there are no difficulties in the mall or the hotel, because it’s a straightforward construction. A two-storey shopping mall and retail, it’s like any other project. We have so many

projects in the area and we don’t see any different challenges or anything. It’s just been normal day to day work, dealing with the labourers and that sort of thing,” he explains. “It’s just a (ground + one) shopping mall. It’s not a very complex.”

However, one thing that did require, and will continue to need careful monitoring and planning is the workforce on the construction site.

With summer fast-approaching, government authorities have already begun preparations to monitor the health and safety of onsite workers during the blistering heat of July and August.

Dhabeah says that these circumstances, as well as Ramadan timings, have all been factored into the planning of the construction schedule. As such, he does not expect there to be too much disruption to the construction schedule of the project.

“In summer, there are certain arrangements that are normal to the industry. There are breaks during summer and the contractors are part of the system, they’re not new to the region and they need to provide the proper areas for rest and so on,” he says.

“Normally Ramadan comes during the summer and the contractor work hours reduce, they emphasise on the night shift. During the day, they’ll do the preparation, all the concreting and all the other issues will be during the night work, because the weather is better. All the proper equipment is there.”

In relation to this, Dahbeah adds that their choice of contractor was heavily influenced by their record when it came to safety onsite, given that the developer’s reputation and record on construction projects.

“Luckily, so far we’ve had zero accidents since the start of the project and we stress on the contractors to continue with the same record. Generally, in all of our projects, we have very good records for safety,” he asserts.

“The people working with us are very experienced, the consultant working with us, they’re well-known. The contractors have been around enough (to know what to do),” he tells Big Project ME.

“ They’ve worked with us before and their safety record is known to us. Safety is a major issue for us, so we don’t foresee any major problems.”

During phase one of Dragon Mart’s construction, the surrounding area saw extensive work being done to increase accessibility to the complex. Roads were built, expanded and rerouted to allow ease of access to the shopping mall.

Given that the bulk of work has been completed in terms of infrastructure, Dahbeah does not see major adjustments just yet. However, he says that part of the mall’s design will be added to allow for the development of the project and the additional parking space.

“(However) In terms of the future, there are plans to extend the new metro line, one station will come to service this area of International City, which is an added value. That’s part of the expansion of the Roads and Transport Authority though, they would be the best people to ask,” he says, concluding the site tour and making it clear that Nakheel have bigger plans in store for the Dragon Mart, having cornered the market with Phase 1.

The year of the Dragon is well and truly underway as far as one of Dubai’s largest developers is concerned.

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