Shoppers should be able to visit Abu Dhabi's revamped old souk by the end of this year. Ed Webb, the development manager for Aldar, which is responsible for the Central Market project, said between 75 per cent and 80 per cent of the construction on its three-storey souk was finished and the first 100 units would be open to the public by December.
Retailers are due to start building their shops on the ground floor in the next two to three months. "One of the main reasons for having a phased opening is it is near impossible to fit out 300 units at exactly the same time to open at exactly the same date," Mr Webb said. More than 2,000 retailers have expressed interest in the souk since Aldar began taking requests last month, said Fred Douglas, the company's director of leasing.
"We asked those 2,000 retailers to submit to us their concept and some details about themselves, and their history of trading and the quality of trading ?" Mr Douglas said. "What that has meant is that we have the luxury to now select from those with the best usage and feel to give us our traditional souk." To more closely resemble the market's former life, the retailers will be mainly smaller, independent sellers, said Reham Abdulla, Aldar's senior leasing manager for the Central Market. Some potential tenants were retailers in the original souk.
The souk's design will also have connections to Abu Dhabi's past. There are panels of coloured stained glass and the souk's inner walls will be covered with slotted wood panels to evoke the timber used in a traditional market and the emirate's natural colours, said Ms Abdulla. "It is the same colour as the sands of Abu Dhabi," she said. "What we're trying to do is not go too far away from the original design. We're trying to find something that relates to the site's background."
The emphasis on heritage and traditions is a key part of Abu Dhabi's strategy of promoting the city as a cultural destination. To give the feel of an outdoor market, the rectangular structure's glass roof above the central atrium will be retractable and the windows along the souk's perimeter will swing open to let in fresh air. Retail interest aside, the first component of the Central Market to open up will be the first floor of the underground car park. About 300 of the 5,300 spaces will be available for nearby residents and office workers in the next month, Mr Webb said.
The souk's ground floor will house banks, food shops, books, electronics and gift items. Shops on the first level will sell gold, watches and jewellery, while the second level will feature carpets, handicrafts, local apparel and art galleries. These two floors, each with 100 shops and measuring 5,000 square metres, should open in the first quarter of next year, Mr Webb said. But the Central Market's other major retail centre will cater to Abu Dhabi's more modern tastes. Many of the 170 stores in what is called the Emporium will be high-end fashion brands and be connected to the souk by a bridge, said Ms Abdulla.
"We looked at the Abu Dhabi market and we see that there is a lack of high-end stores," she said. "We have a lot of high-end shoppers who travel every weekend to Dubai to shop for these products. We thought, 'Why don't we create a high-end destination for shoppers in Central Market'?" Although luxury retailers worldwide have seen lagging sales as consumers cut back on spending, Ms Abdulla said high-end brands would be popular with tourists and Abu Dhabi's affluent population.
"We believe that luxury will work in Abu Dhabi because the GDP of is one of the highest in the world," she said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org