Al Maryah Island seeks to draw comparisons with other financial districts such as Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris.
Al Maryah Island takes shape in Abu Dhabi
Driving up the steep bridge on to Al Maryah Island next to the capital's Corniche, your car rolls on to a huge area of land raised 14 metres above the water.
Beneath this podium the size of 400 football fields, which now houses Abu Dhabi's new central business district, is a maze of service roads, buildings and corridors.
This network of infrastructure will eventually house a hive of activity supporting a community overhead comprising 70,000 residents - all walking to work, dropping their children off at school and socialising at the island's shopping centre and hotels.
Al Maryah Island, which was known as Sowwah Island until last week when the Government changed the name, has been years in the making, and it is still some way off the "integrated community" that Mubadala Development has set out to complete by 2030.
But Sowwah Square, the signature business district of the island, is now complete, and a host of high-profile tenants are moving in, with an anchor, the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), expected to be up and trading by the end of the year.
Sowwah Square consists of four commercial towers, each 30 to 36 floors high. A separate trapezium-shaped building houses the ADX and incorporates a flowing atrium where the Galleria shopping centre sits beneath a latticed roof that admits a shower of natural light.
"Anchored by the stock exchange, Sowwah Square is going to be the financial district for Abu Dhabi. I think there's no doubt Sowwah Square is developing as the centre for business," said Kevin Brass, the chairman of this year's Real Estate Summit at Cityscape Abu Dhabi and also the public affairs spokesman for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, based in Chicago.
In the three years since construction began, confidence in the UAE property market has largely evaporated and prices have fallen 50 per cent in some instances. Given the prevailing conditions, the completion of the project has depended on the "sheer will" of the Government, Mr Brass said.
The rest of Al Maryah Island, which seeks to draw comparisons with other financial districts such as Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris, is at varying stages, from near-completed buildings to still barren, unsold land.
"[Al Maryah] is still going to have a healthy mix of commercial, retail and residential," said Ali Eid AlMheiri, the executive director of Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality, part of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.
"There will be Sowwah Square, there's the Cleveland Clinic [hospital]. We have already sold a number plots to developers - some of them are commercial, some residential and some hotels - so it's going to plan."
Mubadala's vision for Al Maryah is to have the island, which is about half the size of Dubai Marina, offer 1 million square metres of office space, 1.5 million sq metres of residential towers and 1 million sq metres of retail, hotels, schools and health care. Modelled on its namesake in the United States, the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will be a state-of-the-art hospital with 364 beds, situated next to Sowwah Square. All parts of the island will be linked by a network of air-conditioned walkways, allowing movement between apartments, offices and restaurants.
Mubadala envisions the island as a miniature Manhattan, dotted with skyscrapers and lower-rise buildings. "In the current master plan, we should account for 70,000 people living on Maryah, and Sowwah Square will probably have 12,000 workers," said Mr AlMheiri.
Beyond Sowwah Square and the Cleveland Clinic, which were financed by Mubadala, the rest of the project will be financed by third parties that will buy the land and undertake developments. So far, land has been sold to the hotel operators Rosewood and Four Seasons, both of which are planning hotels of 34 floors with more than 200 rooms and serviced apartments.
Mr AlMheiri expects Rosewood to be open by the end of this year, while the contract to build the Four Seasons is being tendered.
Al Hilal Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi have also agreed to build a flagship headquarters on Al Maryah. Taiwan's Farglory Group has announced that it will build a US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) residential project that will include luxury housing. Mubadala also hopes to convince a school operator to build and run a primary and secondary school on the island.
"The vision is pretty much still there," said Mr AlMheiri. "Of course, as the market changes, you need to tweak the vision. But there's not going to be a drastic change."