Majid Al Futtaim Properties, the company behind Dubai's Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre, is pushing ahead with its regional plans despite the economic downturn. The firm had drawn up a master plan for a mixed-used development that will be built across a 100-hectare site in the Sabboura Yafour district of Damascus in Syria, and will begin construction over the next 12 to 18 months, said Peter Walichnowski, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Properties.
An initial US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) is expected to be invested in the development, which will include a mix of hotels, offices, homes and retail outlets and will be built in phases over 10 years. A shopping mall the size of Mall of the Emirates will also be built at the site. "Syria is a hungry market," said Mr Walichnowski. "There is a pent-up demand in Damascus and Syria in general. They haven't got very many modern real estate concepts there."
The firm is also rolling out shopping malls in other parts of the region as it moves away from a saturated retail market in Dubai. Mall space alone in Dubai is set to grow to 280ha of gross leaseable area by next year, according to a report earlier this year by Jones Lang LaSalle, the property consultant. Between October of last year and March this year, at least three malls opened in the emirate, including Dubai Mall, one of the largest in the world, Arabian Center and Dubai Marina Mall.
The biggest mall under construction is Mall of Arabia, which is due to open in Dubailand at the end of next year. It includes about 93ha of leaseable space and will be the biggest shopping centre in the world. Mirdif City Centre, a mall by Majid Al Futtaim that will have 183,400 sq metres of leasable space, is also under construction. By next year, the total amount of space will have increased by 263 per cent since 2006, according to the consultants Retail International.
New malls are also being built in Abu Dhabi. Majid Al Futtaim has signed a joint venture agreement with Mubadala Development to build a shopping mall at the Arzanah project, a mixed-use community being developed on the land surrounding Zayed Sports City stadium in the capital. "We're at the concept phase, but there is some readjustment of the roads in the area that is holding us up," Mr Walichnowski said.
The firm also has land in Saudi Arabia that has been reserved for the construction of a large mall and will soon award the enabling works contract on Beirut City Centre, a shopping mall in Lebanon. Most of the planned malls will be anchored by a Carrefour hypermarket. Majid Al Futtaim Group, which owns Majid Al Futtaim Properties, has been a franchise partner of the France-based hypermarket chain since 1995.
So far, 26 Carrefours have been opened in the Middle East, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan. One store opened last month in Iran, while 10 are planned in Pakistan. "The Carrefour model is a great thing to build a shopping centre around," said Mr Walichnowski. "Carrefour is like dynamite in all these markets. The consumer loves it, especially during tough times." Mr Walichnowski added that most of the finance for the projects came from a combination of the company's cash pool or through equity markets.