Dubai // Speculators have drawn ire from economists lately for driving up the prices of homes, but the founders of Opulence Holdings represent another side to the story. The three Indian investors are taking the millions of dirhams they have earned in the high-speed UAE resale market and using it to sculpt an island in the shape of a seahorse off the shores of Dubai. The Dh1 billion (US$272 million) project, called Jal Aashwa, will be located on the African "continent" of The World, an archipelago artificially created by Nakheel.
"We really want to leave a stamp in Dubai," said Kuku Gardner, one of three directors at Opulence Holdings. "We've been here 20 years and this is finally our chance to do something that the world will talk about." She and her co-owners, Bondy Lahori and Veenus Siroya, moved to Dubai about 20 years ago to set up garment businesses. They made fortunes cheaply manufacturing the clothing of companies like Tommy Hilfiger, Express and Liz Claiborne in the Sharjah and Ajman free zones.
Then as the property boom erupted in Dubai, they ploughed their profits into dozens of plots of land and apartments - which they traded at a premium and used the proceeds to buy even more property to resell. "We did well trading, but we wanted to create something of our own," said Mr Siroya, whose family owns one of the largest gold companies in the UAE, Siroya Jewelers. So they took the plunge and last November bought the island - located in the same spot that Somalia would be on a world map - and started thinking of concepts. They trawled through a few animal themes before hitting on the idea of the sea horse, or jal aashwa in Sanskrit.
"It's a romantic, mystical creature," Mr Siroya said. "It's exotic - we like what it represents," Ms Gardner added. The plan is to build 55 villas, which start at Dh25m, fanning around the curved shape of the island. Each includes the usual luxury components like an infinity pool, jacuzzi and leisure deck. But there are plans for a few exceptional features. One is to create about 10 small islands around the perimeter of Jal Aashwa with golfing greens.
"Imagine waking up and walking over to your deck, or even the master bedroom, and hitting golf balls," Mr Lahori said. "You could have a competition with your neighbour." The island will also include a clubhouse outfitted with a marina, where several yachts will shuttle people back and forth between the mainland or other islands of The World. The total size will be about 32,000 square metres. Major sections of The World will be outfitted with hotels, resorts and retail areas, which would be another draw to life on the island, the developers said.
"It will be an exclusive place to have a second home for holidays, or live in full-time if they want that life." Ms Gardner said. The developers plan to start shaping the island next March. Nakheel handed them an oval-shaped piece of sand, so now the task is to excavate from the middle - creating a small lagoon - and craft the rest of the land. Sales will begin even sooner. The investors want to exhibit a special stall at the Moscow Millionaire Fair on Nov 27.
"We are all going to save one villa for ourselves," Mr Lahori said. "Some people from Bollywood have approached us, too." The return for the project, the founders hope, will be about 50 per cent or Dh500m. But this time, the project has the added value of letting them write their names in the sand. "We are all self-made and we have been here for 20 years," Ms Gardner said. "We can't take this project home with us, but it will let us be part of the legacy of Dubai." @Email:email@example.com