ABU DHABI // John Bullough, the chief executive of Aldar Properties, has a small clock on his desk that is counting down to a turning point for the company, the Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Island late this month. "It's a defining moment for Aldar," Mr Bullough says. "It's a mark of maturity." The project will the first major development Aldar will complete and hand over. So far, it has only delivered single office buildings in the capital.
And starting next year, Aldar will begin delivery of more high-profile projects. Two phases of Raha Beach will come online, as will the coin-shaped Aldar headquarters building and the Ferrari World theme park. "We have taken this project from desert to what you see now, a race circuit, seven hotels, a marina, golf course, the beginning of Ferrari World, in two years," he says. "It's nothing short of miraculous - The people I owe the biggest debt to are the 40,000 labourers at the site who are creating the greatest race circuit to ever be built."
These days Mr Bullough spends several days a week at the track to oversee finishing touches. There are still extensive landscaping, testing and dismantling of equipment to be done in time for the race. And Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management is completing its final commissioning of the racetrack. "The fact that I and my senior management team are spending so much time at the site shows just how important it is for us to meet our deadline and deliver the quality we promised," he says.
This all comes during difficult times in the region's property market, with sales at a trickle and financing hard to come by for both developers and buyers. To assuage some of these difficulties, Aldar is today rolling out a home finance product in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Finance called Aldar Privilege. For buyers at the Al Muneera and Al Zeina sections of Raha Beach, the packages will offer lower interest rates and loan-to-value ratios of up to 85 per cent.
For Aldar, the slower market is pushing the company to make a transition from a "pure play development company" to a "long term asset manager and investor", Mr Bullough says. Whereas in the past, buyers were fuelling the market, he expects to see more long-term investors buying buildings and developers holding more units for rental in the coming years. "The fundamentals of Abu Dhabi, stability, inherent wealth, location, are still strong," he says. "But there will be a greater emphasis on asset-management skills."
Even without a pickup in the market, Mr Bullough says the company had raised enough cash to fund its development programme in the coming years. "We are perfectly funded to deliver all that needs to be delivered." For now, Mr Bullough says the company was not engaged in "crystal ball gazing". "The market will go where it goes," he says. "All we can do is take a measured approach to deliver what we have promised."