News Column

Face to face: Nabil Al khaja, Wasl Properties

June 7, 2014

ArabianBusiness.com Staff



Wasl Properties has just opened a pair of new projects in Dubai's Al Karama district Wasl Onyx and Wasl Amber, which general manager of projects Nabil Al Khaja explains demonstrate its new way of building.

The company was created to look after a portfolio of over 25,000 residential and commercial properties within some of the more traditional areas of the Emirate of Dubai, including Deira, Bur Dubai, Al Karama, Muhaisnah, Al Barsha, Jumeirah, Al Wasl, Jebel Ali, Al Quoz and Ras Al Khor. It manages the development and letting of properties for the state-owned Dubai Real Estate Corporation, among others.

Wasl Onyx contains 69 apartments and has been built by Ginco General Contracting. Wasl Amber has 84 and has been built by Saleh Contracting.

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However, Al Khaja says rather than just being simple apartment blocks, these new units contain the type of facilities popular in more expensive freehold areas but not often seen as much in Al Karama.

For instance, they each include a gym, swimming pool, kids' playing area, security, satellite TV feeds, storage rooms and central systems for gas and air conditioning. Each building also has basement parking and ground floor retail.

"Wasl is going into different types of project, where we are not only doing a standalone building but trying to create a community around it," Al Khaja says.

"That's what we are focusing on and what we feel the city is really requiring. For example, now I would never go and build a project without retail consultants on board. They know the market better than us in terms of what is required."

Wasl Properties was started in 2008 and had previously concentrated on quite a narrow section of construction focusing on low- and mid-range housing and offices.

"It was trying to focus on a certain level of product quality for a certain level of income," Al Khaja says. However, he argues that this has changed in recent years. It recognises the value of neighbourhood retail, for instance, as many people avoid mall-linked hypermarkets.

"The design has become different now. We're looking at the types of material and think in advance of who tenants will be."

The company is working on five other projects in Al Karama. The first is a 40,000ft2 building containing a basement, ground, mezzanine and two upper floors. It will have 11 retail units taking up 11,282ft2 of space, 12 one-bed units, 30 two-bed and 30 three-bed. It is a $16.5mn (AED53.8mn) project that has been built by Ginco General Contracting and designed by Arenco.

The second is a high-rise building with 13,700 ft2 of retail on a 49,997ft2 site with a basement, ground, mezzanine and 32 upper floors containing a total of 90 apartments. It is a $23.6mn project designed by NEB, but no contractor has yet been appointed.

A $16.7mn, 50,000ft2 complex containing a basement, ground, mezzanine and two upper floors has been designed by Dubarch and is being built by Team Engineering. It contains 13,000ft2 of retail space spread over 20 units, 36 one-bed, 42 two-bed and 12 three-bed units.

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A 42,135ft2 plot also with a basement, ground, mezzanine and two upper floors worth $19.2mn will also contain 13,000ft2 of retail and 66 apartments. It has been designed by NEB, but again no contractor has been appointed.

The fifth project is a scheme provisionally known as the Gallant Building, which is a series of four linked units on a ground and four upper floors containing 111 stores and 449 apartments.

It is being built at a construction cost of $7.2mn (AED26.4mn) by contractor Arifco to a design developed by Design Center.

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"It is a unique building in Karama. If you see the location of that building, and how we have designed that, a lot of people will say that this building doesn't fit the area.

"People said this is a very high-end design for the area. But when this went to the board, they said 'this is a brilliant idea'. We should be the benchmark for that because it's a very old area. We know it is due for refurbishment and a lot of buildings will be demolished. So people now will build to that standard."

Wasl Properties says the area remains popular among renters, attracting an increase in rental values of between 18-26% in the area over the past 12 months.

Outside of Al Karama, the firm has been busy on a number of other major projects many of which have a hospitality element.

For instance, it recently completed the Wasl Trio project in the Muraqqabat area of Deira, which contains three buildings one Hyatt Place four-star hotel, one block of apartments and one serviced apartment building. In total, there are 210 hotel rooms, 217 apartments, and retail elements on all of the ground floor buildings. The $99.4mn (AED365mn) project was built by Al Shafar General Contracting and opened in March.

Wasl Properties' general manager of property management, marketing and communications, Zainab Mohammad, said the project is "reurbanising an area of the city that we should rightfully be proud of".

The same can certainly be said of the proposed new Wasl District, where a new souq is just being completed. It will sit alongside a new museum on the site of Dubai's first hospital, 354 new residential units, 115 serviced apartments and a 196-room hotel that will be the second Hyatt Place in Dubai.

Phase one has involved construction of the $14.7mn souq, where structural work completed in January to allow for tenants to fit-out units. It contains 211 retail units and should be operational by the end of the month.

Contractor Al Rostamani carried out the work alongside souq designers Bel Yoahah, masterplanners AE7, landscaping advisor B&B and sustainability firm AESG.

The new museum on the site of the former Al Maktoum Hospital is something that Wasl Properties has worked on alongside the Dubai Municipality, Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Culture to come up with a project that will "hopefully be completed within a couple of months", according to Al Khaja.

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He added that the scheme, which has an overall value of around $230mn (AED850mn), has been designed "to fit the area" with simulations of wind modelling and shadows being carried out to introduce natural cooling elements. On top of this, it is using a 'mist' system where water is sprayed to cool an area once temperatures reach a certain level.

As a result, he says temperatures should be around ten degrees (Celsius) lower within the development than around it.

"This is something that we are very proud of and we want to show the people what we have done there," he said.

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"I think Dubai Municipality have visited the site to see how successful this is.

"When we explained the ideas, they were very excited."

The project, which is Wasl Properties' second-biggest, is now moving on to phase two, with most of the enabling works already completed.

It has been designed by Kling Consultants, working alongside Aroom Consultants that has provided specialist local knowledge. The works are being carried out by contractors Stromek and Shapoorji Pallonji.

A third Hyatt Place hotel is being built at Bani Yas Square in Deira by Wasl Properties' hospitality arm. The project, which has been designed by NEB and Samuel Creation, is worth $23.5mn (AED86.4mn) and is being built by Al Ahmadiah Contracting.

The same contractor is also building the first two Hilton Garden Inn-branded hotels for Wasl Hospitality in the region a three-star, $21mn (AED77.2mn) unit in Al Mina and a $22.6mn hotel at Muraqqabat in Deira.

Both are scheduled to complete in the third quarter of 2015 and have been designed by Dimensions, with Design & Young responsible for the interiors.

Wasl's hospitality arm has also been working on a site at Jumeirah Beach Road set to contain a new, 235-key Mandarin Oriental hotel. Enabling works on the site are already well-progressed and a tender for the main contract should be issued by the end of 2014.

"We're not going to stop the five star hotels, but I think the majority percentage of hospitality up to maybe 70% will be three and four-star hotels," Al Khaja said, explaining that it had already begun exploring this market long before directives were issued by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for more budget hotels to meet demand in the run-up to Expo 2020.

"The good thing is that we started two years ago. We are already delivering projects. What the government has announced, it shows we have been doing the right things and are on the right track."

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Other residential schemes include Wasl 90, Dar Wasl and Wasl Vita.

At Wasl 90 in the Jumeirah area, Al Arif Contracting has been working on a $28mn (AED102.9mn) project to build 90 four- and five-bed villas on plots ranging in size from just over 3,0000fft to 7,900 ft2.

Wasl Vita is also in Jumeirah, and consists of a mixed-use scheme of retail, residential and leisure units.

It has a 78,000ft2 retail area that will include a community Carrefour mall as well as 34 other retail and 19 food & beverage units. It will also house 64 apartments due to be released onto the market next month a health club with swimming pool and landscaped outdoor areas. It is being delivered by Naresco Contracting under a $24.8mn (AED91mn) contract.

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Dar Wasl on Al Wasl Road has been designed following an Andalusian architectural style and contains 112 apartments, 166 villas, a clubhouse and 46 shops. The project has a development value of over $90.6mn (AED333mn). It has been designed by Khatib & Alami and is being built by Al Aroubi.

It is due for completion in the first quarter of 2015.

The biggest project in terms of unit numbers, however, is the Muhaisnah Residences project on Dubai's northern border with Sharjah, where it is building a series of ground-plus-four-storey buildings that will house around 1,200 new apartments, a mosque and a supermarket.

"We have awarded this job to Al Arif and we are hoping that this project will complete by the end of 2015," he explains.

The company already runs hundreds of apartments in the same area and Al Khaja said that these are all occupied.

"There is a huge waiting list for people wanting to rent those apartments," he says.

He argues that this is because its units are generally of a better standard than those in neighbouring buildings with more space, better materials used and proper interior consultants employed to create individual concept designs.

"Usually in low-cost housing a lot of people wouldn't pay that attention to detail," he says.


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Source: Construction Week (United Arab Emirates)