Real estate developer Imkan, a subsidiary of private equity investor Abu Dhabi Capital Group, has appointed British architect Thomas Heatherwick to design a luxury hotel and residence in the centre of Abu Dhabi, as the one-year-old company prepares for 2019 to be its first “delivery year” for a pipeline of schemes.
The Ras Al Akhdar project, which is in the concept design stage, would be located adjacent to the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi – close to Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers in the heart of the city centre - Imkan's chief executive Walid El Hindi told The National in an interview at Cityscape Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
“We are not building a hotel as such, we are building a landmark for Abu Dhabi,” said Mr El Hindi, who was previously chief executive of Dubai-based Emaar Properties’ Egypt unit Emaar Misr.
“When you see the Burj Al Arab [the sail-shaped Dubai hotel operated by Jumeirah Group], you immediately think ‘Dubai’. In the same way you will see this and think ‘Abu Dhabi’. This landmark will be very unique.”
Imkan is in talks with five prospective global hotel operators to manage the new hotel – some of which do not yet operate in the UAE. Mr El Hindi declined to reveal further details about the project, such as its size and how many rooms and residences are planned. Imkan is also collaborating with Heatherwick on a second project, details of which will be unveiled in the coming weeks, he added.
Abu Dhabi’s hospitality market witnessed a 5 per cent year-on-year increase in occupancy levels in the first quarter of 2018, according to consultancy JLL Mena’s latest real estate market update published this week.
The number of hotel guests in the emirate rose by 15 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to a year-earlier period to reach 405,850, figures from the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority show. The increase was mainly attributed to a rise in Chinese tourists.
Imkan’s development portfolio both in the UAE and abroad has a total investment value of Dh10 billion, Mr El Hindi said, and 2019 will be the company’s first “delivery year”.
Jassim Alseddiqi, Imkan board member and the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Financial Group, told The National that Imkan has a 30 million square metre land bank and aims to be "unique in its offering".
Across the UAE, property sales and rental prices have declined on the back of a three-year oil slump and subdued demand, but Mr El Hindi said the ultra-prime sector was comparatively resilient.
“It depends on what you are doing and the scarcity of it, and whether it’s in the right place,” he said. “If I have a luxury product in the most amazing location, the demand never goes. It’s like Central Park in New York City.”
Thomas Heatherwick is the founder of London-based Heatherwick Studio, which is designing Singapore’s Changi Airport expansion, among other projects.
"Hotels are often some of the loneliest places you can go to, so we were thinking about how we could create a feeling of togetherness [at the Abu Dhabi scheme]," he told The National. He said he was inspired by caravanserai – small shaded stopping places with rooms built around a central courtyard – while travelling on the Silk Road in Azerbaijan.
“So this project is based around a whole series of courtyards and the rooms are arranged around them. You have a sense of togetherness, at human scale.”
Apart from the Ras Al Akhdar scheme, Imkan is building four other projects in Abu Dhabi at present. Its most high-profile is the 18-hectare Makers District on Reem Island, which is intended to become a hub for creative businesses and workshops.
Land reclamation and dredging work has completed and early construction works are scheduled to begin this year, while early enabling works for Pixel, the leisure and entertainment component of the Makers District, starts this quarter, the developer said.
The other schemes are the 46,000 square metre Sheikha Fatima Park, a public realm project for which a construction contract has been awarded to Abu Dhabi-based Al Fara’a Contracting, and Nudra, a luxury development of 37 villas on Saadiyat Island, which has recently broken ground.
Imkan’s pipeline also includes one scheme under construction in Egypt and two in Morocco, with the Cairo-based Alburuoj project scheduled for handover in the second quarter of 2019.