Looking for a home to dock a yacht in the backyard? If that’s one of the reasons for you to buy a property in the UAE, then you should be sailing down to Umm Al Quwain.
The Sobha Group is ready with its master plan for a high-end mixed-use community on Al Sinniyah Island off the UAQ coast is ready and for construction to start by June. The residential units, about 700 of them, will start at Dh500 a square foot on average, which is quite a difference compared to what a waterside project in Dubai or Abu Dhabi would command. Sales could start later in the year. In addition, the destination will accommodate up to five hotels.
“A good number of the residential plots will allow direct berthing of the yachts in addition to the marina,” said P.N.C. Menon, Chairman. “We are trying to create something unusual, even by the standards of what you see now in the UAE.”
Announced in April 2016, the “Firdous Sobha” is estimated to cost Dh15 billion plus, and represents an equal joint venture with the Umm Al Quwain government. The future community will be connected to the mainland via a 1.1-kilometre bridge, work on which will also start by midyear. The developer is also taking the onus for building the bridge.
Firdous Sobha will take up 5 square kilometres of Al Sinniyah Island. “We will not be using more than 35-40 per cent of the land, and the rest will be given over to water bodies and a golf course, either 9- or an 18-hole,” said Menon. “We will not build all the 18 holes together, but go with nine first and the rest when the full development happens. We are looking at a 10-year timeline for the full project completion.”
“For the moment, the main thing from a construction perspective is to fill up the land for Phase 1 and also start on the bridge immediately. We cannot put off the bridge part.”
The Sobha Group is not the only master-developer from Dubai with a UAQ focus at the moment. Emaar has a waterfront project up in the emirate.
Of late, the Northern Emirates has been pulling in a lot of real estate development interest; a Sharjah government entity recently confirmed its alliance with Abu Dhabi headquartered Eagle Hills to build three high-profile projects in the northern emirate and to cost upwards of Dh2 billion. In Ras Al Khaimah, Rak Properties unveiled the Hayat Island — a 6 million square feet destination — in September last.
For Sobha, the trek northwards is part of a strategic plan. It has two ongoing developments in Dubai — the Hartland and District One — at MBR City. “Our financial exposure on these is $8 billion and that I would say is quite a substantial one for any private developer in a single market,” said Menon. “The land bank we have in Dubai is good enough for the next 7 to 8 years, with Hartland itself lasting all the way up to 2022.
“We have plans for a flagship 73-storey tower (to be called “Sobha Signature) on the Dubai Water Canal (but within Hartland), the design for which is more or less ready. It’s only the timing of the launch that we need to decide. That will be dictated by the market conditions.
“There are about 50 serious players in this market — we are trying to be in the Top 5. That, I feel, is something we can get to be.”
Holding the line on a move into hospitality
Sobha Group will keep building hotels at its projects in the UAE, but will not get into managing them. That they will leave to the generic hospitality chains, says the Chairman, P.N.C. Menon.
“We will not feel confident competing with the giants who manage more than 600 hotels in their individual networks,” Menon said. “The returns are still good even you build a hotel and then lease it out.
“At hotels, even the last minutes a guest stays has is important. Reputations can be destroyed — I feel only people with that expertise and years and years of experience should try it. That’s what I think.”
But Sobha, however, will take the onus for a community mall project — 108,000 square feet of GLA and to be ready by 2020 — at its Hartland development in MBR City. “Mall management is not as complicated as doing the same with a hotel,” the Chairman added. “We’ve been a bit late getting into malls, but that’s still OK. The returns could be 17-21 per cent if you are able to do it properly.”