x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Victorian dreams come down to earth

Deerfields Town Square, a mall and residential complex planned for Al Bahia, has been scaled back due to cost and regulations.

Developers have reconfigured the Deerfields Town Square project to conform with the government's urban planners.
Developers have reconfigured the Deerfields Town Square project to conform with the government's urban planners.

The developers of a shopping mall and residential complex designed in the style of Victorian England are scaling back the project to cut costs and satisfy Abu Dhabi town planners. The 297,289 square metre Deerfields Town Square development in Al Bahia area of the capital was originally due for completion this year.

But Banu Tas, the general manager of Deerfields, said that the project, which was to have had stained glass and gilded domes, was "overdesigned" and would have cost double the initial Dh1 billion (US$272.2 million) budget. With other large-scale regional projects such as Yas Mall being built in the area and retailers expressing concern about the theme distracting from their stores, the developers reconfigured the design, Ms Tas said.

The completion date for the retail portion of the project has been pushed back to October next year. "It was a great fantasy. It was going to be one of a kind," Ms Tas said. "However, it might not be the best for the retailers." The mall will no longer be Victorian, but modern with "classical" touches, and it has been downsized from roughly 130,000 sq metres of leasable space to 83,613 sq metres, she said.

The Deerfields Town Square project was launched in May 2008, a peak sales time for UAE retailers and property developers alike. However, since the onset of the economic downturn last year, retail sales in the Emirates have dipped for the first time, forcing retailers and developers to take a much more measured approach, said Mark Morris-Jones, a senior director for retail and industrial property for the MENA region with the consultancy CB Richard Ellis.

"At the time, given the information in front of them, given the demand and the rate of expansion and spend in the market, what they did would have stacked up," he said. "But the market is very different now." Ms Tas said the growing cost and economic conditions, combined with the requirements the developers received from the Urban Planning Council (UPC) during the approval process, triggered a complete redesign of the project.

The final design was approved by the UPC this month, she said. "Under these circumstances, in the financial aspects, the whole world realised the fact that we shouldn't be overdesigning and overspending." The revision of the project is the latest sign that the building industry in the UAE is evolving, Mr Morris-Jones said. "To a certain extent, the catalyst is the recession, but this was starting to happen anyway, and it is a factor of the market maturing. The fact that the developers are doing this should be applauded."

In accordance with UPC regulations, Deerfields Town Square will be targeted towards area residents rather than being fashioned as a large-scale regional mall catering to tourists, Ms Tas said. Due to height restrictions, gone are the gilded domes, and the height of the shopping centre will be lowered from 40 metres to 31 metres. Carrefour has already signed on for a 10,000 sq metre hypermarket, and Deerfields is negotiating with retailers to lease the remaining store space.

The project's eight residential towers were originally planned to be 30 storeys tall, but they have been reduced to five storeys in compliance with the UPC's zoning for the area. The flats and a hotel will now be incorporated into two large, interconnected low-rise blocks, Ms Tas said. Deerfields's new budget has not been finalised, but it will be less than the original Dh1bn figure, she said. Preliminary work at the project site began in June last year.

Deerfields, which is being developed by Mubarak and Brother Property and Financial Investments, has obtained Dh450m, in addition to its own equity, for the retail portion of the project and is negotiating with banks for financing of the residential and hotel units. These components of the project are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2012. Ms Tas said she was confident that the new design would be more suitable for the project's long-term viability.

"Themes, they have short lifespans; you get bored from heavily themed places," she said. "So we realised that if you do it in a classical architecture, you will never get bored. It is going to cater to people for a longer time." @Email:aligaya@thenational.ae