Abu Dhabi Tourist Club residents say change is good as municipality demolishes buildings

The old Abu Dhabi neighbourhood has seen many old buildings go down over the past years

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The Fatima Fitir Al Rumaithi building in Abu Dhabi’s Tourist Club area – or Al Zahiyah district - has been around for 40 years. Like many buildings of the same vintage in the capital, it’s undergoing some repair works, underscored by protective green fabric that is wrapped around the ground floor.

“It will not be demolished. We are only doing maintenance for the AC pipes. They are old so maybe they will be removed,” said the building’s watchman, Mustafa Al Haqq.

“The pipes were leaking water to the outside [walls] and damaging the paint.”

He said the last time the building was painted was around seven years ago.

On the other side they removed an old building as well, so they are taking good care of the Tourist Club area

“We are not repainting now, but there was a stone on the [exterior] wall that was coming outside of its place, someone complained to the municipality and they are fixing it,” he said, pointing towards the building.

“They have been fixing for 11 months or one year, and still it is not fixed.”

Fatima Fitir Al Rumaithi’s fate looks more promising than some of the other buildings in the vicinity. Two others, one located in front and behind it, were demolished in recent years as part of Abu Dhabi Municipality’s ongoing efforts to improve the image of the city.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Mustafa Mohammed, 33, originally from Bangladesh works as a watchman in Tourist Club Area for the last 11 years. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“I watched them when they demolished it. It was done day-by-day, not by explosives, like the towers in Mina," said Mr Al Haqq, a 33-year-old Bangladeshi, who has been a watchman at Fatima Fitir Al Rumaithi for 11 years.

“If it’s demolished, there are many workers at the shops under the building that will also be out of a job or have to relocate. I will have to do the same.”

The demolition of Mina Plaza towers was the most high-profile of the 728 old and abandoned buildings that were razed to the ground across Abu Dhabi last year.

Around 6,000kg of explosives brought the three residential towers down in less than 10 seconds in an early morning controlled explosion heard around the city in November.

The towers stood in Mina Zayed for almost 10 years and their demolition will make way for the new buildings that will help regenerate the area.

The municipality said building owners in the city must ensure their properties are well maintained to avoid potential demolishment, which would be carried out for safety reasons and to avoid "distorting the general appearance of the city".

The Tourist Club area, which lies in the heart of the capital’s eastern side, is home to many buildings under scrutiny from authorities.

Every few blocks, there are buildings that have been demolished, according to residents, while many others are undergoing maintenance and renovation to avoid the same fate.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Sultan Amir Hussein, 50, originally from Bangladesh works as a watchman in Tourist Club Area. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Across the street from Fatima Fitir Al Rumaithi, the watchman at the C71 building said he was eager to see it undergo a revamp.

“I have been a watchman here for eight years,” said Sultan Hussein, who was unsure how old the building is.

“The owner should do maintenance. All the buildings around us are repainting and fixing their pipes,” said the 50-year-old from Bangladesh.

“We should repaint. Look the plaster is breaking off slowly."

The building’s pipes underwent maintenance three years ago, he said, but he believes the last time the walls were painted was around 15 years ago.

News this week that the municipality was demolishing old buildings was welcomed by residents and workers in the area.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Collins Naaemeka, 32, originally from Nigeria a business owner in Tourist Club Area. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“I like the way the government is handling this area,” said Collins Naaemeka, 32.

The Nigerian business-owner, who has been living in the area for five years, said he witnessed “many new buildings come up and old buildings come down”.

“It is mandatory for building owners to renovate or demolish, so I think it is a work in development,” said Mr Naaemeka.

“On the other side they removed an old building as well, so they are taking good care of the Tourist Club area.”

Mr Naaemeka said he liked living in the neighbourhood because he could move around easily on foot, even during the summer months. “There is a lot of shade, you can always walk around,” he said.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Mohammed Abdulraheem, 31, originally from Bangladesh has been working at African Nice Restauran, Tourist Club Area for the last 11 years. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Mohammed Abdulraheem, 31, said he likes working in the area and has seen it change very much since he began working at a restaurant 11 years ago.

“Many things have changed since I came. It used to be much more crowded, [but] not too many people come here any more. Before the business was good, now it is not good.”

Pointing to an empty sand lot, he said: “That building has been destroyed. Al Habib Restaurant used to be there and it had to move. Many things [have] changed.

“I don’t feel sad; just the business used to be good, now it is not good.”

Mr Abdulraheem lives in a new building on the opposite corner from the restaurant.

“It is a good neighbourhood. I like it,” he said.

The “good area” encouraged Abdulmuheet Abdulrahman to leave his phone-operator job at a hotel in Dubai, and work as a baqala supervisor in the area behind Al Salama Hospital.

“I was the phone attendant at a hotel in Naif area on Baniyas Square,” said the 53-year-old Indian.

“I did not like the hotel business. Here, there are good people; it is a good area.”

He said he was also in favour of old buildings being replaced by newer ones.

“I had a friend who worked in one of the buildings who have been demolished. He was then out of a job and had to travel back to Kerala; I miss him, but this [demolishing old buildings] is good, not bad.

“I am not scared that this building will be broken down,” he said, “It is all fate, who knows maybe today I am here, tomorrow I am not.”