Sharjah hotel developer faces historic challenge

Shurooq faces challenges in the construction of the Al Bait Hotel.

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The developer behind the $33 million Al Bait Hotel in Sharjah is facing numerous challenges – including the renovation of several historic Emirati houses that lack foundations.

Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) is developing the 54-room boutique hotel, which is set to open its doors in March or April 2016. It is part of the first phase of the wider Heart of Sharjah project, slated for completion in 2025.

“I think this is a very important project for Sharjah,” says Ammar Adeeb Tawfeeq, senior project manager at Shurooq, adding that the Al Bait Hotel is the first traditional Emirati hotel of its kind in the UAE.

Construction will be in two parts, Tawfeeq says. The first phase involves the renovation of five historic buildings that will eventually form part of the 5-star hotel. These buildings include three houses, one smaller house, and one majlis.

The buildings will be renovated according to strict guidelines that the conservation architects and engineers will have to follow, Tawfeeq says.

The process also involves protecting the old and fragile structures, some more than 60 years old, from water and humidity.

The older buildings don’t have foundations, Tawfeeq says. There’s a risk of settlement for some walls, especially due to the high water table, he points out. These walls will be supported by new foundations, he says, or parts of them replaced if in bad condition.

“Everything that will be done here will be under very close supervision by us and the heritage department,” Tawfeeq adds.

The design of the hotel and the tender process are complete, Tawfeeq told Big Project ME. Three contractors have been shortlisted to be awarded the project, with evaluation criteria based on their history as well as their financial and technical capabilities.

All of the companies involved are either Sharjah-based or have a branch in the emirate, he adds. “We prefer to deal with the Sharjah construction companies.”

The hotel will be operated by GHM, the company also in charge of operating Shurooq’s Chedi Khorfakkan resort, which is set to open in 2015.

“I think it will be a great start for the development of Heart of Sharjah,” Tawfeeq says of the Al Bait Hotel. “This will be the key for the future development of all the projects.”

Most of the wider Heart of Sharjah development will be low-rise in order to keep with the traditional feel of the project, Tawfeeq says, with the goal being to bring in “the urban fabric for the old Sharjah city.”

Phase one of the project will see the reconnecting of Souq Saqr with Souq Al-Arsa by rebuilding the Souq Al Shanasiyah on Bank Street. It is seen as part of the emirate’s efforts to promote travel and tourism in Sharjah.

Another means of incorporating the fabric of the old city into the development will be through the use of semi-public spaces in the hotel, such as sikkas (alleyways) between the hotel buildings which the public can use, Tawfeeq says.

The hotel will also have no outer fence, so visitors from the general public will be able to walk through the sikkas and access the souqs, which will be eventually be linked together and connected with the hotel.

“The intention is to give the guests the feel and experience of the old city,” he explains.

The work, however, comes with its fair share of difficulties. According to Tawfeeq, the major challenges the site presents are accessibility, relocating services, and the space available for construction.

“We are trying to sort out all the anticipated problems,” Tawfeeq says, admitting that this could be a challenge given that the development is situated in the midst of a busy and congested area.

In addition, accessibility to the site is restricted to two roads which serve as the only points of access, he adds. Services such as power, drainage and water would also need to be relocated outside the site without causing disturbance.

There is also limited space available for the contractor to accommodate labourers or machinery onsite, Tawfeeq adds, as the site is small.

“It’s not easy,” he says. “It will be a serious challenge. But hopefully the contractor [is] capable of doing this.”

The Heart of Sharjah project is set to lead to the eventual demolition of Sharjah’s Bank Street to make room for the development. This will be a “very complicated and time consuming process,” Tawfeeq says, as the existing owners and occupants of the buildings might need to be compensated.

“We are working with the Sharjah [Roads and Transport Authority] and the planning department to study what would be the implication of closing the Bank Street,” Tawfeeq says. “Sometimes, for some projects, we probably go with a sort of joint venture with the landlords.”

“This is one of the opportunities for people to participate in the development of the Heart of Sharjah,” he notes.


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