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Zaya, the developer behind the Nurai Island project, expects luxury home buyers to remain active during the downturn.
RICH-JOSEPH FACUN
Zaya, the developer behind the Nurai Island project, expects luxury home buyers to remain active during the downturn.

Mood upbeat on billion-dollar island

Chief executive pushes forward to complete the Nurai project, a 3 million square feet island, by December 2010.

Despite losing eight out of her first 48 sales as a result of the global credit crisis, the developer behind the ultra-exclusive Nurai Island project is pushing ahead to deliver all the homes by the end of 2010. The 3 million square feet island, located about 25 minutes from Abu Dhabi just off the tip of Saadiyat Island, will also boast a 45-room boutique hotel called Nurai Retreats, as well as a spa, two restaurants and a nightspot modelled on Cafe del Mar, the famed club in Ibiza. Nadia Zaal, the chief executive and co-founder of Zaya, said she was confident she would sell the remaining 37 homes because she believed luxury home buyers were not as affected by the downturn in the economy as others in the market. "Most of our owners have multiple homes," she said of Nurai's buyers, who hail from Germany, Switzerland, India and China, among other places. "They are what I would call collectors." The brand of watch her buyers said they most identified with was Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, according to market research by Zaya. At prices ranging from Dh55 million (US$14.9m) to Dh100m, and annual maintenance fees between Dh180,000 and Dh250,000, the Nurai estates and villas are possibly the most expensive homes in Abu Dhabi. Total revenue for the project would be about $1bn when totally sold out, she said. Zaya, which is co-owned by Ms Zaal's company, Assas Real Estate, and an investment company, Tasameem Real Estate, was this week finishing up its first villa on the island. The two-storey home, which is 1,205 sq metres and has six bedrooms, is built into the island like a bunker. Its curved roof is covered with grass and has views of a private beach and swimming pool. Residents and guests must travel to the island by boat or helicopter. There are no cars on Nurai, so guests will get around by golf cart, or walk. The homes are leasehold, meaning buyers can buy a 99-year lease but not own the property outright. The estate houses are built into the island and the villas are out over the water, giving the project a "virgin island" feel, according to Ms Zaal. The grass on the roofs and across the middle of the island is what she calls the "green carpet effect" - a technique intended to evoke the undisturbed islands of the Maldives. To focus on the project and get the sales team up to speed, Ms Zaal said she recently stayed on the island for three weeks, along with some members of her strategy team. Her main focus is on completion by December next year. The construction force will double to 400 workers in the next few months. "Everyone loves the concept, but it's so important to start delivering," she said. "With all the doom and gloom that's out there, being here is something positive." Zaya was not planning to launch new projects soon, but Ms Zaal said she and her partners were looking to make land acquisitions in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman, Qatar and India. Asked if she had any buyers inspired by the lavish island estates of espionage films, Ms Zaal said: "Funny you should mention James Bond?" and then declined to say any more. bhope@thenational.ae

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