x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Maabar Moroccan project is moving ahead near capital

Building continues while other sites sit idle as demand drops; nevertheless, speed not finance is at heart of project.

RABAT // The Abu Dhabi property developer Al Maabar is pushing ahead with an ambitious plan to transform a piece of land between the historic centres of Rabat and Sale into an urban development that would rival the likes of Solidere in Beirut. Yousef al Nowais, the managing director of Al Maabar, said funds set aside for the US$850 million (Dh3.12 billion) Bab al Bahr project was being transferred to its joint venture firm in Morocco.

"The money earmarked for the project is available and is going to be spent on this project," he said. "The challenge for us is building in a very short time, not financial issues." Lebanon's Solidere project has grown up around an area that has been populated for five millenia. The project, located where the Bouregreg River meets the Atlantic Ocean in the Moroccan capital was among a number of developments announced by Emirati developers over the past five years.

It is also one of the few projects making substantial progress to date. Sama Dubai's Amwaj project in Rabat and several projects from Emaar Properties across Morocco are stalled as those companies deal with issues back in Dubai. Similar developments in Qatar, Oman, India, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been quietly slowed or rescheduled in the past year as financing became more difficult and demand declined.

Indeed, the most pressing questions from Moroccans this weekend were about how Dubai credit problems would affect investments financed from the Emirates. Lofti Benchekroun, the director of development at Bab al Bahr, said this was a key concern as the company prepared to offer 500 of 2,000 homes in the site for sale next month. "Reputation is very important right now," he said. "We want people to know that we are making good progress. People around the world have seen what is happening in Dubai."

Al Maabar had already transferred Dh286m to the project for construction costs, Moroccan authorities have said. Bab al Bahr has finished 90 per cent of infrastructure and 30 per cent of construction of buildings in the first phase, which includes 157 apartments and 88 retail spaces. The project is buffered in part by the shareholders of Al Maabar, the shared international property development arm of Abu Dhabi's largest property and investment companies. It is co-owned by Mubadala Development, Sorouh Real Estate, Aldar Properties, Reem Investments, Reem International and Al Qudra Holding.

At the same time, it operates as a quasi-governmental entity. For instance, the Bab al Bahr project was officially signed into existence by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and the first stone was laid in May by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Most of its projects are agreed upon with a foreign government, rather than a foreign company.