Construction begins this month on the Dh1.4bn City Centre Al Jazira shopping mall, which will open in early 2021.
The 215,000 square metre mall is a joint venture between Majid Al Futtaim and Al Jazira Sports and Cultural Club, home of the current Arabian Gulf League champions.
It will be located beside the Al Jazira Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium along 17th street, between Airport Road (Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, 2nd Street) and Muroor Road (Sultan Bin Zayed the First Street, 4th Street).
The mall will have 153 stores, a 15-screen Vox cinema, a City Centre clinic, a fitness centre, a Carrefour Hypermarket and 3,000 parking spaces. Its design has a pearl rating of two out of five by Estidama, Abu Dhabi’s measure of sustainability in building design, construction and operation.
With population growth in the greater city projected at five per cent per year, the time is right for the company to open it’s first mall in Abu Dhabi’s downtown, said Ghaith Shocair, the chief executive officer of shopping malls for Majid Al Futtaim.
“The retail potential in the city is is growing at more than double population growth,” said Mr Shocair at a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday in the capital. “We expect the size of the retail sector to just about double in the next three to four years.”
Majid Al Futtaim, which holds exclusive rights to the Carrefour franchise, will open its My City Centre Masdar mall by 2019. It is the retail giant's first mall in the capital and part of its ten-year strategy to increase its total investment in the country by Dh30bn by 2026, for a total investment of Dh48bn in the UAE.
“Abu Dhabi continues to be a very robust and growing city with great potential for us. Given our presence in the UAE, it’s importance for us to have a very strong, anchored presence in the capital city and this is what you see today.”
Al Jazira Club’s location on the east of the island is a “sweet spot” reachable in a 15-minute drive or less for 800,000 residents in the downtown, Al Reem Island and Al Maryah Island.
“Our attempts at finding the right opportunity in Abu Dhabi are not new,” said Mr Shocair. “They’ve been going on for many years. Abu Dhabi has some challenges in terms of the ability of sites that fit our criteria and we are quite particular in terms of how we do site selection and what makes for a successful shopping centre. This is the right opportunity.”
Future opportunities will in high growth corridors of Abu Dhabi city, like the suburbs of Mohammed Bin Zayed City, Al Shamkha and Al Falah.
Small business owners along Airport Road, adjacent to the planned site, were optimistic that City Centre Al Jazira would restore the neighbourhood’s reputation as a commercial district.
“Hopefully, it will be good for business,” said Masood Hussein, 42, who has worked at Isfahan Night Restaurant on Airport Road since 1985. “We opened our business here because there was just one road before, Airport Road. There was no Muroor or Salam street so we came here and there were so many people.”
Mohammed Dilawar, a barber at Celebrities Style Gents Saloon, agreed.
“God willing, it will be good and they’ll be lots of customers,” said Mr Dilawar, 21, who often sits for hours at a time waiting for his next client.
The UAE’s growing online retail sector is not expected to impact its entrenched mall-going culture, where shopping centres serve as town squares sheltered from extreme heat. “Online shopping is certainly growing very rapidly but it’s growing from a very small base and as the markets continue to expand there will be room for new challenges,” said Mr Shocair.
Majid Al Futtaim, which operates Ski Dubai and Mall of the Emirates, opened Africa's first indoor ski slope in March at the Dh2.6bn Mall of Egypt in Cairo as part of its Dh5.1bn investment in Egypt. The Cairo ski slope has been "extremely well received" said Mr Shocair.
The company has another ski slope planned for Saudi Arabia as part of Dh13.71bn investment in the Kingdom at its 300,000 square meter Mall of Saudi, which opens in 2022. It won't be Riyadh's first ski hill, though. That honour went to Snow City, a Dh97.9m investment that opened in the Kingdom's capital last July.