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More than a decade ago Salem Al Moosa came up with an idea to build life-size replicas of some of the world's architectural wonders. Some thought of it as nothing more than a pipe dream, but Al Moosa dared to put his money where his mouth is and immediately started to work on his ambitious projects in 2005. But like most other projects in those times, Al Moosa's Falconcity of Wonders (FCW) was held back by an unprecedented global economic recession.
The project has faced numerous delays and is still not even half complete, but Al Moosa has kept his project alive by sheer will and determination. Sub-developers are likewise having problems starting work on some of the project's ''world wonders'' such as the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. To keep things moving, Al Moosa says he will personally build and fund some sections of the master developments, particularly the pyramids.
Although the main attractions have yet to be built, around 400 families are already living inside the mixed-use community development, which is located in Dubailand. Al Moosa says the secondary market in FCW has also picked up and is now estimated to be worth around Dh11 billion. The master developer is also expected to start work on the City of Beirut and City of Old Dubai clusters, as well as the Central Park.
At the Cityscape Global in September, Al Moosa says FCW received positive response from investors, who were impressed with the design and layout of the mega project.
Even before the financial downturn sent shock waves across the real estate market, Al Moosa says he already had to face a lot of unique challenges in developing the project. He says the first challenge was to build basic infrastructure that would connect the 41-million-sq-ft development with rest of the city. It took more than two years and over Dh600 million to complete the infrastructure work, while further obstacles came its way when in 2006 and 2009 Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) required the developer to conduct traffic impact studies before it could proceed further.
Al Moosa says he has now completed all infrastructure works, including roads, parks, children's play areas, landscaping and security management facilities. His company has also started handing over residential villas of the Western Residence North community in April.
In an exclusive interview with Property Weekly, Al Moosa reveals more about the project's progress and its impact on Dubai's property market.
- How was the response at Cityscape Global?
It was highly successful. We received an overwhelming number of visitors, most of whom were investors who expressed high interest in our mega project.
All visitors had the chance to view FCW's unique designs and features, such as the medium pyramids called Polaris and small pyramids called Vega. [We also presented] promotional offerings, including one that would allow buyers to move in by paying 10 per cent.
A new community centre will be ready by the end of December and will feature a second branch of HyperPanda, mosque, nursery, medical centre, food court and shops.
- What is the current status of your project?
We commenced the handover of residential villas at the Western Residence North community from April 15. This is a milestone for us as it underlines our commitment to delivery and to contribute to the development of significant projects in the nation. The Western Residences North will accommodate 227 families. The stock is almost sold out and we are preparing for the launch of upcoming phases of villas, apartments and hotel apartments.
The construction of the Western Residences South is also almost complete. Situated along the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road, the community includes 366 themed villas in addition to a 17,274-sq-m community centre that will comprise a hypermarket, medical centre, nursery and mosque.
We are investing resources in building our country's future through the completion of the 69 milestones and objectives outlined in this mega project. The Medium and The Small Pyramid, two of the three pyramids to be constructed at FCW, will showcase a cosmopolitan and luxurious lifestyle, giving investors as well as end users an option to own a serviced hotel apartment managed by a five-star hospitality chain.
The construction of the Pyramids Park area, which will host all the three pyramids will commence in the very near future.
- How did you rework your completion targets after much delays?
We are expecting successful conclusion of the Western Residence North and the community centre this year, while the community club should be ready by next year. The completion of the second stage of the Western Wing will see the inclusion of a health club for men and women, swimming pools, tennis, squash and basketball courts, restaurants and coffee shops. The coming years will see the completion of the Eastern Residence North and South, along with the Central District, four schools, an outdoor sports area and The Medium and Small Pyramids.
The project will be constructed in a phased manner. As with all mega projects, the only way forward is to build in phases to make sure quality, cost and time constraints are all met without affecting each other negatively.
- What about the status of infrastructure at FCW?
We have completed all the infrastructure works and supporting facilities over ground and underground. We have completed the construction of roads extending alongside the internal streets and street lights. Furthermore, we developed the parks, children's play areas, landscaping and security management facilities.
At FCW, we prioritise safety. We never compromise on delivering a healthy and secure environment despite the costs. Accordingly, we have implemented an integrated and advanced security system that is connected to various government authorities and fire stations to ensure a comfortable and safe lifestyle for residents.
In addition to a power substation with a capacity of 132 kilo volts of electricity, there is a sewage treatment plant that has a capacity to treat 15,000 cubic metres of waste water per day.
- Once completed, how is this project going to change the skyline and dynamics of Dubai's property market?
The project will have a prominent impact on Dubai's skyline and shall contribute to Dubai's attractiveness as a tourist's dream destination. The Eiffel Tower, The Pyramids and The Taj, are planned to be bigger than the original, which will create a truly eye-catching and awe inspiring view — particularly that FCW will host all the wonders in one place.
Our projects are planned taking into consideration the dynamics of Dubai's property market and will positively impact its growth.
- What did you do differently to make this project still viable after the market crash in 2009?
We kept our vision, objectives and promises to our customer, even if it meant tackling difficulties at multiple levels. Our clear focus allowed us to prioritise and deliver upon our promises in a phased manner. Our strategy was responding to the fluctuation in Dubai's property market in the delivery of our project, while never compromising on our quality and reputation at any cost.
- With the deceleration in the growth of property values, how are you dealing with the pricing issue?
We take into consideration the fluctuating costs in Dubai's property and all related industries and reach a balanced approach towards market demand, fluctuating costs, quality and affordability according to different target segments. Reaching a balance requires many efforts and strategic thinking in different fields.
You can easily say we found the correct equilibrium. Being in the real estate market as a family business for almost 40 years gives us the edge to tackle crises and reach safe harbours. We have done it before and we know how to do it again. We believe that we can achieve anything with a little bit of extra hard work.
- Do you see a big demand in the market for quality high-end apartments?
As in any property market, Dubai's performance is strongly related to the supply and demand equation. Driven by strategic initiatives and growth plans the emirate has witnessed significant growth and resident influx, which results in constantly growing demand. Despite new units being delivered there remains a gap in demand and supply. The size of the gap differs across market segments and other factors such as location of the development, developer, project type and business module associated with the development. While demand is growing, Dubai's real estate sector is delivering best in-class facilities. The behaviour of the market this year and beyond will reflect the emirate's growth patterns and plans.
- Dubai already has many luxury and high-end projects launched by various developers. How will FCW differentiate itself?
Dubai does offer many high-end, customised houses. Our offerings address the needs and requirements of families looking for great homes in a safe and harmonious setting. We also make sure to deliver on the quality, price, location, services and lifestyle needs of residents.
FCW is a unique development. It brings all the wonders of the world to one development and in fact [will be] larger than the original. The lifestyle amid these awe-inspiring structures is definitely going to be more elite than anywhere else. At the same time, residents and visitors will have vastly different entertainment and dining options in each of the different wonders — all within the community.
- Do you see enough supply entering the market to meet future demand?
The emirate has room for projects for varying lifestyle and commercial needs and sizes. An essential part of the growth plan is to attract international attention for commerce and tourism, which will raise demand and keep the market afloat despite a large supply stock.
I think the UAE will remain a centre of development evolving into a knowledge-based society, where every individual can grow and flourish, according to his or her capabilities. We are grateful for the support from the government in building a future for ourselves and the community in Dubai. We take pride in the emirate's achievements and aspire to see it scale greater heights, in line with the vision of the UAE Government and Dubai Government.
As always, we will remain at the forefront in supporting government initiatives such as the World Expo 2020 and Dubai Vision 2021, as these are the pillars of Dubai's exceptional growth plans.
The wonders of Falconcity
Replicas of some of the Wonders of the World will serve as key attractions of a master-planned community in Dubailand.
* Taj Arabia
* Tower of Pisa
* Hanging Gardens of Babylon
* Eiffel Tower
* Great Wall of China
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Source: S. A. Kader, Special to Property Weekly