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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Exclusive: DMCC may build Uptown Dubai project with multinational partners

Executive chairman says other options include raising financing or building the mega project with its own funds

Dubai's DMCC is considering options including raising funds or taking on strategic multinational investors to build Uptown Dubai District, said Ahmed bin Sulayem, its executive chairman. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dubai's DMCC is considering options including raising funds or taking on strategic multinational investors to build Uptown Dubai District, said Ahmed bin Sulayem, its executive chairman. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai’s DMCC is considering options including raising funds or partnering with strategic multinational investors to build Uptown Dubai District, a 10 million square feet extension of one of the world’s biggest free zones that will include two super tall towers, its executive chairman said.

DMCC, the master developer of Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) development and a hub for trading of everything from tea and diamonds to derivatives and commodities, may decide to fund the entire project from its own balance sheet, Ahmed bin Sulayem told The National, without naming the firms DMCC intends to partner with or how much money it will raise if it decides to opt for that.

“We have options on how we develop it. We can develop it at our own pace with our own revenues and money,” said Mr bin Sulayem. “We do also have a lot of interest from some big players...who are looking to do signature projects – not one tower but multiple complexes, high-rises and super tall towers. It [Uptown Dubai project] actually fits their bill – it’s worth their while and its worth their time.”

Uptown Dubai, which is estimated to create 10,000 new jobs over the next decade, will include Grade-A commercial space, residential areas, more than 200 retail and food and beverage outlets and luxury hotels. Two super-tall buildings will include a main podium 28 metres above ground featuring a two-level central plaza, larger than New York's Times Square, that is connected to numerous outlets and a retail mall. Off-plan sales for the residential properties will kick off in the first quarter of 2018.

DMCC is open to striking a deal with any large multi-national company, whether it is from Asia or Africa and there are several proposals being considered, the executive chairman said. It, however, is not under pressure to make a decision on how it will build the mega development . “On the financing, I think it’s still open: not in the way we don’t know where the money will come from. We know it but we just want to make sure it works for us. We don’t want to rush it,” he said.

DMCC has approached the debt capital market in the past. The free zone in 2005 issued a five-year US$200 million Islamic bond giving the option of redemption either in US dollars or gold bars. The fund raising exercise for Almas Towers Gold and Silver, and the subsequent development of the larger JLT area, gives DMCC confidence about the success of the Uptown Dubai project, Mr bin Sulayem said.

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“I can only say that we have learned from how we financed and developed the bigger project – JLT. if you look at what has been delivered here, we have learned a lot,” he noted.

What varies with the final choice of DMCC in terms of how it will proceed with the development is the delivery schedule. “If we are doing it on our own, it will take longer but surely it will be delivered. If we are doing it with a big strategic partner, you might see us doing it in one phase,” Mr bin Sulayem explained.

The first tower in the free zone expansion will be delivered by the time Expo 2020 kicks off in the emirate, however, the two super tall towers, anchoring the development and designed by architects Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill from Chicago, are slotted for completion later, he said, adding that the timeline of construction and delivery of the project as a whole is still fluid.

By the time DMCC starts delivering the Uptown Dubai units, it will most likely run out of space to house new companies in the JLT free zone.

DMCC is now eyeing Latin American markets to further expand its reach and attract more multinational commodities players. It has registered new members at the same pace as it did in 2016 – a record year when 2,016 new companies joined the trading hub.

More than 1,500 companies have already signed up to be part of DMCC in the first three quarters of this year, pushing the total number of firms operating out of the free zone to 14,178, a 12 per cent increase from the end-2016 level.