Abu Dhabi's vision for this once barren island off the capital is steadily taking shape, with illustrious museums and an exclusive residential enclave.
The elite side of Saadiyat Island
Imagine taking a stroll after your Friday coffee to the Louvre, the Guggenheim and Zayed National Museum on Saadiyat Island.
Overshadowed by the excitement surrounding the capital's construction of three of the world's premier museums have been plans by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) to build thousands of homes on Saadiyat Island.
The first 354 of the luxury homes, known as the Saadiyat Beach Villas, are under construction and are expected to be delivered in the final quarter of next year. TDIC plans to open 10 showcase villas in April in a major sales push. Plans call for more than 1,600 homes to be finished on the island by 2012.
By 2020, the Dh100 billion (US$27.22bn) Saadiyat Island development could be home to 145,000 people, a population the size of a small city such as Dundee in Scotland. Saadiyat villas are increasingly advertised on websites such as Propertyfinder.ae. One 12,000 square foot villa, with gym and "ample staff accommodation", was listed at Dh30 million. An 8,000 sq ft villa was listed at Dh13.5m.
That puts the Saadiyat villas at the top of the pricing for homes in the city, alongside Aldar Properties' Al Gurm villas, which rest atop stilts just off the western side of the island in a style that evokes the resorts of the Maldives.
There is little doubt among estate agents that once completed, luxury homes on Saadiyat Island will be among the most sought-after. These villas near Abu Dhabi's downtown and alongside one of the better beaches of the city and near the museums are likely to be the homes of the emirate's upper crust.
"It's at the highest end," says Peter Samaha, a director at Quest Property Services in Abu Dhabi. "They have been priced incredibly high. The villas are large. They are targeting a specific type of person at the top end of the income bracket."
Homes in Saadiyat Beach Villas will be sold in four levels: standard, executive, premium and VIP. Clusters of villas are each their own "neighbourhood", with a 25-metre pool, squash court, tennis courts and other facilities. In the aftermath of the property recession throughout the region, which pushed prices in Abu Dhabi down by as much as 50 per cent in some areas, nearly all off-plan property sales dried up. This included the Saadiyat Beach Villas, Mr Samaha says, but he predicts interest will start rising when prospective buyers can visit finished properties to envision the lifestyle associated with such expensive homes.
"It's a long-term idea to look at these villas," says Mr Samaha, who is not representing any sellers on Saadiyat. "The view is that Saadiyat will be quite an exclusive destination."
Residential construction on the island is beginning to pick up. Dhabi Contracting Establishment has begun piling and other initial work on Saadiyat Beach Apartments, a development comprising 14 buildings with a total of 963 apartments. The first plot is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2012.
The St Regis Hotel and Residences is also finishing up several show villas on the island for early next year. The hotel complex will include 32 branded villas alongside the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and 259 apartments across seven buildings.
Stuart Magee, the executive director of delivery at TDIC, says the company sees Saadiyat Island as not just a hub for culture and the arts, but also for businessmen and "first-class families".
"Saadiyat Island has been master planned as an international capital city with world-class residential, cultural and commercial facilities," he says. "Saadiyat Island is looking to attract families with its exclusive Saadiyat Beach Apartments and Villas, which will have access to the island's first-class facilities. The project will also appeal to businessmen with state-of-the-art commercial facilities in Saadiyat Marina and the dynamic lifestyle it will offer."
The excitement around the unveiling of the design of Zayed National Museum has brought new global attention to the island. In a ceremony with Queen Elizabeth II and the British architect Lord Foster, a design for Zayed National Museum was unveiled that evokes the wings of a falcon rising from a landscaped mound.
The Zayed museum's structure should begin to rise alongside the Guggenheim and the Louvre in the coming year.
Analysts say the impact of these museums is akin to that of building a landmark tower at the centre of a development: the price of all surrounding property rises because of its association with something globally recognised.