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Big Project Me takes a tour of the Al Hamra Village development in Ras Al Khaimah

The tiny emirate of Ras Al Khaimah isn’t really known as a hot bed of construction, as focus in the emirate has traditionally veered towards industry and manufacturing. While the likes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai hog the limelight and attention of the world, this sleepy northern emirate has gone about its business with a minimum of fuss and fanfare.

This is about to change, however, as the emirate’s ruler and government have put in motion ambitious plans to redevelop and regenerate Ras Al Khaimah by launching numerous real estate projects that are destined to put this most unassuming of emirates firmly on the map.

Central to this plan is the Al Hamra Village project, a massive mixed-use development that stretches out over more than 120,000m2 along the Ras Al Khaimah beachfront. With a built up area of 95,000m2, the project is intended to be a statement of intent for the emirate as it looks to become a destination of choice.

“Al Hamra Village is the first freehold residential development in Ras Al Khaimah,” says Binoy Kurien, general manager of Al Hamra Real Estate Development, the developer behind the project. “We saw the potential in this place. Initially we had only the Al Hamra Fort Hotel in this area and it was doing pretty well. However, we saw the potential of developing this whole area into something, and that’s how we started envisioning Al Hamra Village,” he explains.

This vision has grown to encompass not just the village, but an adjacent 41,000m2 shopping mall, an eighteen-hole golf course, a 200-berth marina and Al Marjan Island, which is built on reclaimed land off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah.

Furthermore, four hotels are in the process of being built or refurbished on the grounds of the development; the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, the Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort, the Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach Resort, the Al Hamra Village Golf and Beach Resort, the Al Hamra Palace Beach Resort and the Rixos Bab Al Bahr Hotel.

Kurien points out that the project has seen significant investment from both the company and the Ras Al Khaimah government. With more than $490mn sunk in to the village alone, there is a lot riding on its success, a situation not helped by the initial obstacles the developer faced.

“One of the biggest challenges we had in this area was a lack of infrastructure, basically power, water and those kinds of things. To overcome some of these issues, the RAK government invested in a power plant, which is run by the RAK Investment Authority. That was commissioned to serve the area, including the residential parts and the industrial parts (of the area). All of these were part of the big picture and the RAK government decided to invest in infrastructure,” Kurien says.

“Also, approvals were given to private players to open and set up water plants and utility companies. So we have more than one service provider giving us power, water and other utilities. That was one of the major challenges, and the government took measures to mitigate those risks and put infrastructure in place,” he adds. “We still do not have FEWA power in the free hold properties. Part of the village, yes, has got federal power, but the rest is from the local government, so that was one of the major challenges.”

“Apart from that, we thankfully have our own in-house construction company, so we didn’t face many challenges on the construction side, because we were managing it ourselves. So whatever challenges, we handled it internally ourselves,” Kurien says.

This in-house company proved to be a major advantage during the completion of the project, he explains. Despite being affected by the financial crisis, the developer remained committed to complete the projects they had announced, and as a result, having an in-house contractor helped keep costs down, while allowing Kurien and his team to control the pace of development.

“Of course construction slowed down, but it didn’t stop because we were already in development. We’d already started construction and we had commitments with owners and with people who’d already bought properties. So whatever we had announced before the crisis, we had to complete,” he adds, pointing out that the last of those announced projects was the Royal Breeze buildings, which were completed in October of 2012.

In addition to the new build taking place on the project, Al Hamra was faced with the task of refurbishing a number of hotels on site, including the Al Hamra Fort Hotel, a $30mn project which will see everything from MEP systems to furnishing revamped and redone.

This is part of a wider plan that will see the development grow to become a self-contained mini-city, complete with its own shopping mall, school, entertainment and healthcare facilities, says Kurien as he lays out his ambitions for the project.

“We have not finished everything, but we’ve finished what we’ve announced. We still have land to build, but there’s also certain facilities that we need to provide. For example, this locality does not have a school, so hopefully, by the end of next year, we should have a school in Al Hamra Village,” he explains.

“(Additionally), we’ve engaged a master planner to plan out Al Marjan Island. It’s a huge place and we’re looking at various options as to what we need to do on that island, feasibility studies are being done and as and when we get to that stage, we’ll announce the projects and go forwards,” he insists, adding that he was looking at 2015 for a potential completion date.

Meanwhile, the developer is carrying on with the development of the village, with plans afoot for an expansion of the shopping mall and the building of essential facilities such as a supermarket, pharmacy and a community centre. Kurien adds that these projects will be going out to tender soon, with a tentative completion date for the end of this year.

On top of all this, Kurien says that the Waldorf Astoria hotel is well underway, with the project (valued well in excess of $200mn) set to be opened this year, following extensive refurbishment work to bring it up to the Hilton Worldwide brand standards, who are managing the property.

“We’re faced with a dilemma of whether we open in May or in August. There’s no point in opening during the peak of summer. It’s going to be more expensive to keep the hotel open than it is to keep it shut! If we cannot open on May 1st, we may open after the summer,” he muses.

“Right now, construction is substantially complete. What we’re doing now is snagging and interiors. The contractor is finishing snags and getting out, while the operator’s engineering team is already in the building and they’ll do some fine tuning. It’s very difficult to say whether it’s going to be one, two or even three months, everything has to come together.”

Wrapping up the tour, Kurien lays out the agenda for Al Hamra Village: “For 2013, our plans are to finish the Waldorf Astoria and get it open, finish the renovation of Al Hamra Fort Hotel and get it open by the last quarter of the year and to finish the expansion to the Al Hamra Mall.”

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