Doha Festival City: The catalyst for aspiration

May 8, 2017 in Infrastructure

The expansion and development of Qatar has been astronomical over the past decade, with new projects changing the Doha skyline and bringing the promise of economic development and jobs. There is nowhere this ethos is better exemplified than with Doha Festival City. Industry-ME was privileged to catch up with Kareem Shamma, CEO of Bawabat Al-Shamal Real Estate Company W.L.L., the company responsible for this vast and ambitious project.

What is the history of Doha Festival City? When was it conceptualized and by whom?

Doha Festival City is owned by Bawabat Al-Shamal Real Estate Company W.L.L. (BASREC) and together with our partners – including the projects largest shareholder, Al-Futtaim Real Estate Services (AFRES), we were inspired to create something new and unique for Qatar – a leisure, retail and entertainment destination unlike anything seen here before. When we planned Doha Festival City we wanted to create a space for the whole community to come together and celebrate with the best leisure facilities, retail mix and hospitality, all with exceptional service.

Even at the beginning, in our planning stages, we had the Qatar National Vision 2030 in mind. We are proud to be part of Qatar’s long term strategy to diversify the country’s economic growth and increase the tourism flow. Doha Festival City is going to be a great attraction for both residents and tourists from the region, particularly from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also from other parts of the world.

The development broke ground on 19 October 2011 with the construction of IKEA – the first element of the project which has been trading since March 2013. Soon after IKEA’s successful opening, work then started on phase two, which was the main mall construction.

What was the need for Doha Festival City?

Doha Festival City is unlike anything currently available in Qatar – the whole essence behind what we are working towards is that every person who visits leaves with a great memory. We are positioning ourselves as a leisure and entertainment destination as much as a retail one – and this is a first for the country.

As an example of this we will have four theme parks including Qatar’s first indoor snow park “Snow Dunes”, and the first “Angry Birds World” globally. These along with our other two theme parks – the family edutainment park “Juniverse” and gaming destination “Virtuocity” will provide quality family time for Qatar residents and visitors. We also expect these and the mall’s other unique offerings to be a draw for tourists – supporting the Qatar National Vision 2030.

What is the overall estimated cost of this project and who is financing this?

The total development cost of Doha Festival City is QAR 6.5 billion and it is currently the largest single private sector investment in the MENA region.

Doha Festival City is owned by Bawabat Al-Shamal Real Estate Company W.L.L. (BASREC), the parent company and owner of the development. BASREC comprises of four shareholders including Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Real Estate Services, Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), Aqar Real Estate Development and Investment Company and a private Qatari investor.

Who are the main stakeholders in the development of DHFC?

Bawabat Al-Shamal Real Estate Company LLC (known as BASREC), is the developer and owner of Doha Festival City Doha Festival. BASREC is a joint venture which comprises Dubai-Based Al-Futtaim Real Estate Services, Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), Aqar Real Estate Investment Company and a private Qatari investor. Al-Futtaim Group Real Estate (AFGRE) will be the managers and operators of what will be one of Qatar’s the region’s most unique retail, leisure and entertainment offerings 

What role has partnership played in the development of Doha Festival City?

Partnership has played a vital role. Many talented and exceptional people in multiple companies have come together to ensure the successful construction of Doha Festival City and many more will be involved in its operation once the doors open. We are delighted to have been able to bring together so many different entities to create what we are confident will be a must-visit destination for the region.

When did construction begin?

The construction of IKEA, which commenced in October 2011 was the start of Doha Festival City. Work on the second phase – the mall, began in March 2013 and we will open the doors of the mall to the public in February 2017.

What is the overall land space for the project and what are the main components of Doha Festival City?

Doha Festival City has a gross building area of 670,000 square metres, the equivalent size of 94 football pitches, and a Gross Leasable Area of 244,000 square metres. We are aiming to have the biggest mall component in Qatar and one of the largest leisure and retail developments in the Gulf.

Once fully open the mall will be home to around 500 local and international brands and more than 100 places to dine and relax – including two dedicated dining areas. Many of the brands that we are bringing, are appearing in Qatar for the first time – including one of our flagship stores, the world-famous Harvey Nichols in addition to well-loved international brands such as Pottery Barn, Lego, JCrew and Muji. Festival City will also be home to the world’s largest Monoprix. As for restaurants, we will have the first Serendipity 3, Dean & De Luca and The Cheesecake Factory amongst many others.

The highlights of our entertainment area are the four theme parks, including Angry Birds World – the first theme park of its kind in the Middle East that celebrates the gaming phenomenon, Snow Dunes – Qatar’s first indoor snow park, Juniverse– an edutainment park for children that harnesses the power of dynamic learning and Virtuocity – which was created exclusively for teens and adults and delivers an immersive digital experience.

Our visitors will also have the option to enjoy a range of indoor and outdoor leisure attractions that include Qatar’s first VOX 4D cinema complex with 18 digital screens. For those looking to be more active the development also has outdoor facilities for exercise and cycling.

What stage is development at now? What projects are completed? What is left to do?

We are two months away from officially opening in February 2017. The mall is close to completion, the power is on and the process of handing over to our retail partners is well underway, so they are now busy working on their fit-outs. On an operational level the senior management team at AFGRE Mall Management is in place and the mall has been handed over, to be run by them – so in simplest terms we are now moving out of construction, and into the operational phase.

How many jobs has this created in construction phase? 

More than 10,000 individuals have worked together seamlessly to create what we are confident will be something extraordinary.

What are the timelines for completion of Doha Festival City? 

In regards to the mall we are set to open our doors to visitors in February 2017. Our retailers are well into their fit-outs and we are now looking at the operational and management side of the mall – so for example we just hired our security partner Teyseer Security, and our in-mall media partners ELAN who will help us to create a great interactive digital experience for our visitors. In regards to the completion of the entire Doha Festival City Project there is still a lot we want to achieve – for example, next year we will break ground on the next phase of the project – a five-star hotel and convention centre which will open in 2018.

What have been the main challenges?

Our biggest challenges have been the result of our own ambitions and our values.

Firstly, it is rare for a project of this scale to have the construction timelines that we gave ourselves – but we wanted to be ambitious and we are proud to be now reaching our finish line and opening our doors in February 2017.

Secondly, it was challenging to find the required construction materials closer to home within the region, as we tried to utilise as many local and regional construction materials and manufacturing processes as possible. But we felt it was important to support regional business and suppliers where we could. An example of success is the glass balustrades which were manufactured in the UAE. Also the steel work for the large central court skylight was manufactured and installed by contractors in Qatar.

Finally and this is the challenge to come, Festival City is a regional brand with major developments across Dubai, Cairo and now Doha. Our biggest challenge and opportunity is to deliver on our commitment to our customers and stakeholders, to enchant our patrons with our creativity and to maintain our exceptional standards of quality and professionalism. The delivery of a Festival City signature brand experience which is nothing short of an ongoing celebration, is also an ongoing challenge.

How challenging has occupancy been for the main retail malls?

Because of the great reputation of the companies involved in the construction and also the exceptional reputation of Festival City as a concept, we haven’t had any major challenges. By the beginning of 2016 we already had more than 90% of our retail space leased. The popularity of IKEA has also boosted confidence that the mall at Festival City will also be a huge success.

When completed, how many jobs will Doha Festival City create?

Although not all directly employed by the mall we estimate that there will be around 3,000 employees of the mall and its partners once it is fully operational.