Businesses asked to produce statements to be reimbursed but retail expert doubts owners can raise enough cash to fund audit.
Marina Mall to consider recompense for traders
ABU DHABI // In the face of rising anger among merchants, Marina Mall says it will consider compensating businesses hurt by the delay of the planned Snoworld indoor winter-sport complex, but it is asking for profit-loss statements that one trader said may be too costly for businesses to produce. In a letter sent to businesses on Jan 19, the mall's leasing administration manager, Hanley Thomas, acknowledged "concerns regarding unsatisfactory performance" of retailers and food outlets because Snoworld's two main attractions, the ski dome and skating rink, had yet to open. Still, business owners and managers who rushed to open their cafes and stores specifically to draw in shoppers from Snoworld, were dissatisfied. "We opened the shop here because of the ski hill, but until now it's been almost two years," said Teresito Mateo, who manages the Quicksilver apparel shop. "During weekdays, we have less than 20 customers, not all of them buying. Maybe 20 per cent of them are buying." The shop opened in Oct 2007.Rami Chehabeddine, the research and development manager for the National Investment Corporation, which runs the mall, said the delays were "natural" but that the ski hill would be completed eventually. "Things are in progress," he said. "It's our project, and we are behind it and it will be concluded." He did not say when construction of Snoworld would resume. Meantime, the principal owner of a major global international clothing brand with several stores in the mall said yesterday he doubted that many of the retailers would be able to pay for an audit to determine profits and losses. "If you go to a cheap auditing company, they're going to charge you Dh40,000 or Dh50,000 at least,'' he said. "What the mall should do is just build the snow dome." This owner spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to damage his relations with the mall. Another manager said he had lost nearly Dh1 million (US$270,000) since opening his food business in November 2007. Requesting anonymity so as not to spread "ill feeling" with mall managers, he said his business was reaching only 70 per cent of its target. And he called the profit-loss request irrelevant. "Even if I make money today I want compensation," he said. "If I'm doing my best and investing my time and effort so as not to lose because of these problems, that has a price." "We stopped paying rent a month ago," he added. "Many tenants are not paying rent." According to the shop owners, it appeared the ski hill would be ready last spring, when skiing and skating instructors were hired and small heaps of artificial snow were dumped inside. The traders said they understood that the dome was not insulated well enough to keep the temperature constantly below freezing. The snow was later cleared, and the indoor area remains a construction site. Ice was tested on the skating rink around the same time, they said. They also complained that their location, near the end of the mall, was "hidden" from shoppers. "As you can see, this is a disaster," one cafe owner said, gesturing towards the empty glass-enclosed site. "Everyone, all the shops, are writing letters to send to them and we're saying we will not pay rent." Noting that merchants had spent a lot of money to set up in the mall, he said: "At the end of the day we're only renting here because this new area was supposed to have the ski hill." The owner said his cafe needed to make Dh8,000 a day to cover rent and staff costs. "We have only two tables and it's lunchtime but just look at it," he said. "This is supposed to be my pickup time, our business time. Just give me 100 customers a day and we'll be happy." firstname.lastname@example.org