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June 2013 was when Damac Properties took possession of 42-million-sq-ft of empty desert land on the edge of Dubai, off Umm Suqeim Road.
Two years later, the area is abuzz with activity. The plan that Damac had in mind back in 2013 is more concrete now. Quite literally so.
Niall McLoughlin, Senior Vice-President of Damac Properties, says the company wanted to develop a ''golf course living community'' and that is what lies at the heart of Akoya by Damac.
An 18-hole golf course created by world-renowned designer Gil Hanse and operated by The Trump Organisation is at the centre of Akoya by Damac, surrounded by branded residential real estate. ''We have the first-ever Fendi villas in the world; we have the Trump Prvt [which is a Trump mansions gated community by The Trump Organisation]; we also have a whole selection of different types of residential products. So you can get your Dh30-million mansion on the lake, and you can also get a golf course-overlooking one-bedroom apartment in a ground- plus-seven apartment building,'' says McLoughlin.
At the time of the project launch, Damac promised to deliver the first residences by the end of this year and it plans to keep that vow.
''The status as of today is that the golf course is 96 per cent complete, and we are going to commence the handover of the first batch of villas by the end of this year,'' says McLoughlin.
''Then there will be a continual programme of handing over of property every couple of months.''
The project is expected to be completed by 2019.
Complementing the residential aspect of Akoya by Damac will be Akoya Drive — a 1.3km retail strip running through the project.
''Akoya Drive is, well, a drive that runs through the heart of Akoya,'' says McLoughlin. ''Along it are retail, food and beverage and entertainment zones. So we have anchored it with some major entertainment zones — an outdoor ice-skating rink, a children's play area and a golfing area, in keeping with the golf course.
''And all of these are to draw people from the surrounding communities.''
Damac says there are approximately 60,000 people living in the greater vicinity, including Dubai Motor City and Dubai Sports City.
''They can come to the drive for shopping, entertainment and hospitality. And all of these have been designed with golf course views,'' adds McLoughlin. Akoya by Damac itself boasts 9,000 properties. ''If you do the math — 9,000 homes could be 30,000 people. It is like a town within a town.''
And Akoya by Damac has ensured that all amenities that are required in a town are available.
''You will have leisure, food and beverage and cafés at Akoya Drive. The first tenant we signed up is Waitrose, which is taking more than 25,000 sq ft as anchor tenant,'' says McLoughlin. ''Also, the Jebel Ali School is coming to Akoya. So all these support services will be there for the community.''
None of the clusters of the project are fully booked yet. But that, says McLoughlin, is by design.
''The way we bring a product to the market is slightly different. We don't want to sell out a building, for example. We sell enough so a part of it can go to the escrow fund and that further development can continue.''
McLoughlin says this approach allows the firm to stay in line with market demand to evolve its products in accordance with customers' needs.
''Before the Arabian Travel Market exhibition, for example, we had a lot of potential customers who liked the service element of our products, but they wanted a house. So we very quickly developed a product called Nova Hotel Villas. We brought that to the market and it sold out quickly.
''So we are always bringing innovative products to the market — whether it is Paramount Service Villas, Trump Prvt, the branded Fendi Villas or the Nova Hotel Villas,'' he adds.
Change of scale
The challenges that Damac faced with the construction of the Akoya complex were very different from what it was used to with the construction of towers. As the project does not include high-rise buildings, it meant the substructure work was a lot easier.
''When we are constructing a tower, we need deep piles of 30-40 metres, but in a project like this you don't need to do that,'' McLoughlin explains.
What the company did need to ensure, however, was that the master planning was spot on.
''Getting the master planning right is important from the infrastructure perspective,'' McLoughlin says.
''From a utility perspective, we have in this particular site two substations. The first substation is complete and we have handed over commissioning; the second one is under construction.''
Despite the huge scale of the project, Damac found to its benefit a larger pool of contractors to choose from.
''If you are building an 80-storey tower, there are only two or three contractors in this part of the world who can build it.
''Whereas when you are building villas, it's a lot easier — its only two levels. So you can look at other prequalified contractors as your pool is bigger.''
Damac also drew on its strength of being a large organization that employs a number of people with specific specialist skills. ''We have 2,300 employees and within that we have 450 project delivery specialists.
''So what they do is work with all our contractors and we break them into a jigsaw. At a given point, one project manager will take a piece of jigsaw of 700 villas with a consultant, a contractor and sub-contractors. Then we have another 700 villas with a different team.
''And that is how we get to manage because we have so many strong people employed by Damac.''
Inside Akoya by Damac
- Trump International Golf Course:
• 18-hole international standard championship golf course
• First golf course in Asia managed by the Trump Organisation
• Designed by Gil Hanse, who is also the designer of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games golf course
- The Clubhouse:
• Design inspired by a golfer's swing action
• Award-winning project at the International Property Awards
• Features high-end interiors worthy of top-class golf projects
- Trump PRVT:
• Limited-edition mansions
• Exterior and interior design in collaboration with Ivanka Trump
• Designed for extreme privacy
• Use of natural lighting through large facades
• Private, gated community
- Damac Villas by Paramount Hotels & Resorts:
• Special interior design inspired by the history of Paramount Pictures
• Interiors reflecting a Hollywood ambience and Californian style Fendi Villas
• First ever limited edition Fendi branded villas
• Interiors fitted by the famous Italian fashion house, Fendi Casa
• Conceptualised for customers looking for distinguished branded properties
- Ground+7 apartment blocks:
• Blocks form a modern skyline backdrop for the golf course
• Strategically placed at the edge of Trump International golf course, overlooking the green course and other parts of the project
Akoya by Damac by the numbers
• 42 million sq ft
• 250 contractors
• 5,000 people working on-site
• 2,400 villas (1,300 of these are up to roof-top level of construction)
• 18 clusters of ground+7
• 11 clusters awarded and seven almost complete
Source: Nadeshda Zareen, Special to Property Weekly