The new chief executive of the US$2.5 billion (Dh9.18bn) Bahrain Bay project is looking for creative ways to encourage developers to resume stalled construction on the man-made island in Manama.
Initiatives include flexibility to allow builders to deviate from the master plan to focus on more viable projects, including hotels, rather than residential and office towers, said Robert Lee, who previously held senior positions for the Dubai developers Emaar Properties and Nakheel.
"There are a lot of two or three-star hotels [in Manama], but not a lot of four or five-star hotels," Mr Lee said. "If you start with those, the rest [of the developments] will follow."
The next year should be key for Bahrain Bay, an attempt to create a business district for Manama, similar to Canary Wharf in London or Sowwah Island in Abu Dhabi.
Most of the basic infrastructure on the 43.5-hectare island is complete and the main highway is scheduled to open in a few months. But the only completed project on the island is the headquarters building for the investment bank Arcapita, the development's primary backer.
Construction is moving forward on Four Seasons and JW Marriott hotels, but only a handful of other developers are making progress at this point.
Sixty-five per cent of the land on the development has been sold to sub-developers, primarily from GCC countries. Most bought before the global economic slowdown and the political turmoil in Bahrain, which has dampened the market.
"Right now there is an oversupply of quality office and commercial space in Bahrain," said Mike Williams, the senior director of CB Richard Ellis, a property consultancy.
But Bahrain Bay may benefit from the timing, if projects are started now and completed in two or three years, Mr Williams said.
By that time, "good access, high visibility, a prominent central location and recovering market conditions may all be positive factors for developments".
Flexible development terms, financing plans and arranging for joint ventures are all on the table to help push the developers to start construction, Mr Lee said.
"Developers don't have access to capital, and capital people don't know who has great and trustworthy partners who can actually carry out development as promised," said Mr Lee, who worked on Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah during his time in Dubai.
Mr Lee replaced Bob Vincent, who is now leading the Four Seasons development project on Bahrain Bay.
Last year, Bahrain Bay announced plans to try to sell the remaining plots, but there was little movement. Mr Lee says he will focus more on working with existing developers.
"We need to talk to our existing partners first and try to resolve their issues one at a time," Mr Lee said. "They are our best customers."
Bahrain Bay does not have any issues with investors and home buyers who bought in delayed projects, Mr Lee said.
Sub-developers in the project were not allowed to sell residential units until they had acquired building permits, Mr Lee said. "It's a clean balance sheet," he said.
He added that prompting more developers to start construction would be the key for the next year.
"That will be a good barometer of success." Mr Lee said.
To help spur development, Mr Lee hopes to create pockets of developments on the island, with restaurants, coffee shops and events to help people visualise the island's potential.
"We may not be able to wait two years" for developments to finish, he said. "We want to create an opportunity where people can experience what life in Bahrain Bay will be like without having to wait until 2014."
The challenge in the current market is to encourage the industry to look at the long-term potential of the project, instead of the short-term issues in the regional markets.
"If you look at the forest and forget about the noise of the trees, you can see the value proposition," Mr Lee said.