x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dalma Mall is ready to weigh anchors

Three anchor stores will open ahead of launch as Musaffah's first mall should prove to be major draw even before road access is finalised.

ABU DHABI // Three anchor tenants in Dalma Mall in the Musaffah area could open by the middle of next month, ahead of the development's official launch in the second quarter. The mall, which was originally scheduled to open last April, was completed last year but awaits approval from authorities to construct additional road access, said Ginane AbdelKhalek, the owner's representative of The Developers, the group that owns the project. Drivers enter now through a single entrance that is off the main motorway.

Three anchor tenants which signed on early - the retailers Bhs. Matalan and Home Centre - have been given the green light to open within the next month, she said. "We were expecting the approvals of the authorities a long time back and these people have invested in buying their stocks and their things," Ms AbdelKhalek said. "We need to support our tenants as well, so we decided to give them the go ahead."

Dalma Mall, which expects to feature about 480 stores covering 150,000 square metres of leasable retail space, is one of at least five malls to open their doors in the emirate this year. The others include Paragon Point on Reem Island, the first phase of the Central Market souk in the Abu Dhabi and 9712 mall in Musaffah. While Dubai had been the site of choice for mall developers, retailers have shifted their focus to Abu Dhabi in light of its growing, affluent population and new island developments such as Yas and Saadiyat.

David Dudley, the Abu Dhabi head of the property consultancy Jones Lang Lasalle, said the emirate still needed more shopping centres. "Abu Dhabi is currently under provided for retail generally," he said. "You have a significant population, a very significant private wealth, yet there is a general lack of supply of retail in the market." Retailers at other malls in the area, however, such as Mazyad Mall, have complained of sluggish sales due to delays in residential projects that were supposed to bring middle-class shoppers to the area.

But Ms AbdelKhalek said Dalma Mall was flanked by a growing residential area and expects high demand in the long term. Also, as the largest shopping centre with entertainment and restaurants nearby, the development will serve as a leisure destination for the surrounding area, including Mohammed Bin Zayed City, Khalifa A and B cities, rather than a place to shop for daily needs, she said. Mark Adams, the general manager of the mall, said that as more of Musaffah's industrial companies began to move their facilities outward under Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, its residential population would grow further.

"The Musaffah industrial area is changing its profile over the next five years and it is already happening right now. Heavy industries, dirty industries have moved out further into the desert and the labour camps are moving out 30km from here," he said. "This is the beginning of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly." Mr Dudley said that while many construction projects in Abu Dhabi had been delayed in the last year, due to a combination of depressed market sentiment and cash flow constraints, there was still a need for housing in that district.

"We do see that there is still positive demand for affordable and mid-market housing, including for that area." The three anchors will join Carrefour Hypermarket, encompassing roughly 13,000 sq metres, which has been open for business since last year. When the mall officially opens in the upcoming quarter, roughly 70 per cent of its stores will be ready, said Mr Adams. The mall is ready to go pending additional road access and chilled water facilities.

While retailers were reluctant to sign on last year, demand began to mount in January, he said, enough for Dalma Mall to raise its rents. "[Before] a lot of people couldn't get their funding. They wanted to be here and it wasn't lack of will, but it was lack of ability to deliver. That has changed significantly," he said. "Instead of people having to fund their operations through their cash flow, they are getting money from the banks again."