An expansive retail, leisure and entertainment centre is being built as the centrepiece of Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), a development of 40 towers running along the Dubai seafront.
In a move that will completely change the face of JBR Walk, one of Dubai's most popular leisure attractions and walkways, Meraas Holding is set to construct a mall of shops and restaurants that will run for nearly 1km along the beach from The Hilton Hotel at one end to the Sheraton Hotel at the other.
"The project involves the creation of an integrated retail and leisure area with underground parking facilities meant to upgrade and develop the beachside area, in front of Rimal and Amwaj sectors," said a spokesman at Dubai Properties Group (DPG), the owner of JBR.
"The new development will offer visitors and residents an even wider variety of shopping, dining and retail destinations, upholding JBR's status as one of the GCC's top tourist attractions."
Meraas Holding would not disclose any specific information about the project but Benoy Architects, which designed Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Sowwah Square, is thought to be the lead architect.
DPG said development activity had already started and would be completed in "less than" 18 months. It also confirmed the project would be low-rise and would not impinge on the views of JBR residents.
"The new development has been planned so as to ensure that sea views will not be blocked for any residents within the community," said the DPG spokesperson.
Analysts said the Meraas development at JBR could be a success, given the area's current focus on food outlets rather than retail stores.
"JBR Walk doesn't necessarily provide adequate retail provision and is very food-outlet biased, so this will go towards that balance and hopefully it can add to the experience of the Marina rather then hinder it," said Richard Paul, a director at Cluttons, a property specialist.
"In the long run as the tram system completes and the traffic problem alleviates, I imagine it can only bring positives."
Throughout the UAE, major companies are investing heavily in retail and leisure developments.
Nakheel is one of the biggest investors in the sector as it looks to borrow Dh300 million (US$81.6m) from banks to build a shopping, restaurant and marina complex called The Pointe, on the tip of the Palm Jumeirah.
It is also doubling the size of Dragon Mart and considering doing the same for Ibn Battuta Mall, as well as constructing a mall on the Palm Jumeirah.
Emaar is expanding the size of Dubai Mall by 92,000 square metres and Meraas is also developing The Avenue, a retail strip in the heart of Dubai.
In Abu Dhabi, a total of 260,000 sq metres of retail space is expected to be completed this year on top of 1.67 million sq metres currently available in the capital, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.
Developers are set to hand over three malls in Abu Dhabi: Paragon Bay Mall on Reem Island; Capital Mall in Mohammed Bin Zayed City; and Deerfields Townsquare in Al Bahia.
There are also new smaller developments such as Etihad Towers, Galleria at Sowwah Square and Emporium at Central Market all forecast to open in the next couple of years.
Originally designed to be a major retail shopping area, The Walk at JBR was unsuccessful in its early years for many retailers and many eventually shut up shop. Virgin Megastore was one of the last to close its shop on the plaza level of JBR this year.
JBR residents have been sent information on the Meraas project in a letter outlining the construction plans.
"During the construction phase, Meraas has put plans in place to minimise inconvenience to the community and include additional temporary parking as well as traffic management," DPG said.
"Residents and visitors will continue to have access to the beach through pedestrian crossings adjacent to the car park. We are also looking at strengthening the police presence at The Walk to assist pedestrians and to better manage the traffic."
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