Majid Al Futtaim Properties - Community specialist

PWShaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, visits Al Zahia’s stand at ACRES Middle East l Image Credit: Courtesy of MAF Properties

Finding one’s niche could spell the difference between success and failure in an industry as competitive and dynamic as real estate. Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Properties, which has carved out a name for itself as developer of some of the region’s most recognisable shopping malls, seems to subscribe to this dictum as it operates within well-defined boundaries.

“Majid Al Futtaim Properties is a long-time strategic investor. So we are not shy of long-term or complex projects,” says Hawazen Esber, CEO of MAF Communities, a division of MAF Properties that focuses on mixed-use community developments. “On the contrary, we find our niche in such type of developments. We always find the right partners and we are proud of our partnership with the government of Sharjah for Al Zahia and with the government of Oman for Al Mouj Muscat.”

Apart from malls, MAF Properties is now also specialising in mixed-use community developments with projects in the UAE, Oman and Lebanon. According to Esber, MAF Properties’ communities business unit is making steady progress.

Pioneering projects
Al Zahia is a pioneering mixed-used gated community in Sharjah comprising residential, commercial and retail components and spanning one million sq m. It is jointly owned by Majid Al Futtaim and the Sharjah government. Al Mouj Muscat in Oman stretches over 6km of pristine beach, with 4,000 residences, a 400-berth marina, a Greg Norman golf course, four premier hotels, along with retail, leisure and dining facilities. MAF Properties is also building Waterfront City in Lebanon. Located 10km from Beirut, the project overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and features more than 2,000 residential homes, a 72,000-sqm office district, a shopping mall, two international hotels, several parks and a marina-front promenade.

“Our focus is on the Middle East and North Africa and we are confident about the prospects there,” says Esber, who took over as CEO of Communities at MAF Properties in October and oversees a four-million-sq-m development portfolio comprising a mix of residential and commercial properties throughout the region, in joint ventures with governments and private partners. “We are looking very seriously at opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Tunisia. The Saudi and Egyptian markets are big enough.”

Robust market
MAF Properties recently took part in last month’s ACRES 2016, The Middle East Real Estate Exhibition and Conference, held at the Sharjah Expo Centre, where it showcased its new projects in the region. “We believe that the progress we have achieved so far reflects our steadfast commitment to delivering a first-of-its-kind mixed-use community embedded in Sharjah’s values of family, community and culture,” said Esber at the event.

Despite issues affecting the region’s economy, including depressed oil prices, Esber believes real estate is the least affected. “When we look long term, the future of real estate is especially bright for the UAE. We are long-term investors and we will be launching projects soon in the region to demonstrate that the market is robust. We are very confident.”

Esber says demand is growing for family-oriented community developments. “Our main focus is on family lifestyle, where small children have play areas, teenagers have sports facilities and parents [can choose from] food and beverage and retail outlets. The market will no longer accept plain vanilla housing offerings. We want our communities to create memories [for families].”

While a new project in Dubai is already in the works, Al Zahia represents the company’s first major community project in the UAE. Located between Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed and University City roads, Al Zahia is close to the Sharjah University City and Sharjah International Airport. There are now residents in the project’s first phase comprising 51 town houses and villas. Construction of 197 town houses and villas for the second phase will be completed in August, with units being handed over starting in October.

The contract for the first tranche of Al Zahia’s Garden Apartments has also been awarded with construction to start soon. The project will be a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with ground floor units having a private garden. The first batch of units of the 1,060 Garden Apartments have been sold out.

Good investment
Esber says the studio apartments provide great investment value with the project’s proximity to the universities in Sharjah. The design of the second phase of apartments is therefore being optimized for students and young occupants.

While the apartments partly target students, Lee Tabler, Executive Director of Development, Communities Business Unit at MAF Properties, points out that Al Zahia is mainly designed as a family-oriented, mixed-use community, with lots of recreational space, mosques and retail facilities.

“Being the first such project in Sharjah, we want to go the extra mile and be environment friendly,” says, Tabler, who is Al Zahia’s project head. “The trash and garden materials are recycled. The flowers and plants look good and fresh, and families like living there.”

     Look back: Sharjah welcomes first gated community

Source: N.P. Khrishna Kumar, Special to Property WeeklyPW


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