Wheels in motion at Abu Dhabi's new financial hub

Sowwah Square, Abu Dhabi's highly-anticipated financial hub, is now open for business, with the first set of tenants working into its signature skyscrapers. 

United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, April 19, 2012:   
Work and clean-up on Sowwah Square and surrounding construction sites continues at a steady pace on Monday, Apr. 23, 2012, at the Sowwah Island in Abu Dhabi. Here, workers hand a banner for the new Galleria Mall. The island has been renamed Marjan Island. (Silvia Razgova / The National)
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Sowwah Square, Abu Dhabi's highly anticipated financial hub, is open for business, with the first set of tenants installed in its signature towers.

The new district is the financial heart of Al Maryah Island, the 3.5 million square metre commercial and residential project being built and modelled on international central business districts such as Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris.

Al Maryah Island was renamed from Sowwah Island by the Government last week to reflect the heritage of a historical village in Liwa that was inhabited by large numbers of pure Arabian oryx.

But Sowwah Square retains its name and is now 32 per cent leased, with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) expected to be trading in one of the district's main buildings by the end of the year.

"One of the reasons people have been moving into Sowwah is that they see a complete development. There is that buzz being created in Abu Dhabi," said Ali Eid AlMheiri, the executive director of Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality, part of Mubadala Development, which is behind the entire Al Maryah Island project.

Mubadala Development is a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

Private sector companies account for 82 per cent of tenants in the buildings at Sowwah Square.

The development consists of four commercial towers, each 30 to 36 floors high, as well as a separate trapezium-shaped building for the ADX and the Galleria, a 33,000 sq metre shopping centre.

"We have the four towers of grade A office space, we have the ADX, who will go in by the end of the year, so the critical mass is there," said Mr AlMheiri.

Sowwah Square is the first phase of the development of Al Maryah into a business and residential hub.

The island is expected eventually to feature a cluster of commercial buildings and house about 70,000 people in tower blocks, with schools, two hotels and a hospital managed by the Cleveland Clinic from the United States.

"We think that [Sowwah Square] will be the most convenient place from which to provide legal services to clients, because we expect there will be a critical mass of international corporates, financial institutions and other high-quality service providers based there," said Sarosh Mewawalla, a Middle East managing partner at the global law firm Linklaters, which has taken office space for up to 20 employees at Sowwah Square.

"We have seen this type of aggregation of institutions in one location being a very successful model. The City of London is a good example of that," Mr Mewawalla said. "Our expectation is that the collection of these institutions at Sowwah Square will be of significant benefit to Abu Dhabi, increasing the ease with which financial business can be conducted."

Al Tamimi & Company, Accenture, Clifford Chance, Gulf Capital, JPMorgan and Deloitte are other major companies that have taken office space in the district.

"It's a pretty phenomenal standing in terms of names," said Piers Barttelot, the head of commercial leasing at Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality. "It's a who's who of law firms. You have the consultancies and some of the financial players. There's been a snowball effect which has helped us."

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