Doha Festival City: Retail and leisure come to Qatar on a grand scale

April 25, 2014 in Retail

The Doha skyline continues to change at a rapid rate as a host of infrastructure and construction projects come to fruition. There has in recent years been an influx of new retail mall and leisure activity but nothing on quite as grand a scale as Doha Festival City (DHFC).

Located in the north of Doha, DHFC is a mixed use complex that will take the whole retail and entertainment experience to a whole new level not just in Qatar, but across the whole region.

Kareem Shamma is the CEO of Bawabat Al-Shamal Real Estate Company WLL (known as BASREC WLL), the holding company responsible for DHFC and describes the sheer scale of the project:

010-DHFC-R12“DHFC is a project in Doha that comprises of a very large shopping and leisure destination; it is so much more than just a mall and in addition to the leisure activities there will be a 5-star hotel and motor showrooms.

“The first anchor in the mall has already been built as a stand-alone unit of 32,000 square metres and is trading as the first and only IKEA store in Qatar.”

BASREC WLL is very much a collaboration of experience and skills. Shamma says that the company brought together a group of Qatari and UAE investors who own the vast 433,000 square metres of the DHFC site.

“At some point Al-Futtaim Group were introduced to the partners in Qatar and formed the joint venture holding company known as BASREC,” he states. “The first real inklings for this project started around 2010 or 2011 and Al-Futtaim brought tremendous experience from their retail and leisure property development background”.

“The IKEA store was built between February 2012 and 2013 and officially opened in early March 2013,” he continues.

The remainder of the main mall is currently under construction with a scheduled completion date of September 2016.

The project involves a myriad of companies and partnerships, with Al-Futtaim Group Retail Estate (AFGRE) serving as Development Manager and providing invaluable experience, as Shamma explains:

“AFGRE already has considerable expertise in this area and is accustomed to the “Festival City” brand, having already developed a couple of other “Festival Cities” in Dubai and more recently in Cairo (which opened in Novemberof last year). They are now working with us in Doha and have other similar projects in the pipeline.

“The Mace Group is responsible for Project Management and we also use Al-Futtaim Investment Management (AFIM) as well as  EC Harris, who act as Cost Managers for the project.”

Shamma notes that the entire cost of the DHFC project is around 6 billion Qatari Riyals (QAR); with BASREC part-funding – and a major syndication of 8 leading Qatari banks providing QAR 3.7 billion.

The investment is seen as an attractive business proposition financially, but also socially, with an anticipated 10,000 people expected to work on the DHFC site at the height of construction. That does not take into account the number of retail and hospitality jobs that will be created by the complex.

One of the spin-off elements that Shamma hopes will come to fruition is the training and recruitment of Qataris. Of course there is plenty of support from foreign companies but DHFC will look to provide invaluable experience to the country’s future architects and designers:

“One initiative we have begun is to invite university students in areas like Architecture, Engineering  and Urban Planning to come and undertake vocational training on-site and we have extended our invitation to students from the University of Qatar,” he affirms.

“Given the sheer scale of the project, this is a unique opportunity for Qatari students to learn and work on a major project and gain valuable experience with both local and Global companies.

“But the local influence we hope will extend further than that and we are for example inviting Qatari artists to submit artwork for the mall when it is completed – and to have their work exhibited in public.”

Creating an aesthetically pleasing mall with “wow” factor is of course a big challenge in a part of the world where it seems everyday a new wonder is designed. DHFC has been designed to create a huge visual impact that will attract not only visitors from around Qatar but the world.

“BASREC recognised that locally there was a lack of international quality in the retail and entertainment market so we have devised a number of unique selling points:

“Firstly DHFC is the largest mall of its kind in Qatar and is set to become the place to visit for dining, shopping, entertainment and staying over; we have adopted an holistic approach.

“Further, the ease of access to the mall through transport systems and ample parking (DHFC will have 8,500 parking spaces) greatly differentiates this mall from local competition. The car parks will be well sign-posted so that visitors can park close to those areas of the mall they have come to visit.

“One of the main visual attractions will be the spectacular Centre Court which we hope will become a major talking point. I cannot reveal too many details at present but we are looking to do something quite spectacular with the Centre Court space!

“Otherwise the sheer scale of the mall is going to stand out. It is almost 1 kilometre in length and the Centre Court will break up that distance very well.

“The entertainment component is also a lot bigger than existing malls and we are bringing a number of attractions that are new to Qatar. There is also a 15 screen cinema complex and we have already signed with a major cinema operator in the region who will provide the latest cinema technology and even a butler service in the more premium screens!

“There are also a number of outdoor activities including a rapid river ride, zip wires, a reverse bungee jump and a mountain bike trail around the mall – all of these concepts are unique to this area.”

DHFC does not lose sight of its environmental obligations either and the design and construction phases have exceeded initial expectations in this aspect, as Shamma describes:

“In Qatar there is a system of environmental standards called QSAS. We went into this project aiming to attain QSAS 1 which is the basic accreditation, but we are probably now nearer to QSAS 3 (although that has to be officially assessed and rated).

“Among the considerations taken have been where materials have been sourced (thus cutting down on transport distance & fuel consumption), use of natural light, the recycling of waste materials and water usage.”

With IKEA already settled into DHFC, a measure of how the rest of the world perceives Qatar can be gauged by the successful leasing rate, ahead of construction:

“We have employed a reputable leasing consultant from the UAE called M-Squared. We already have 70 to 80 per cent commitment for the mall which is hugely significant given we are only in the early stages of construction.

“All of the major regional retailers will be present in DHFC, bringing with them their stables of both familiar and debuting international brands, and we hope to shortly make a jaw-dropping announcement on one of our newly signed anchor tenants, which will underline that DHFC is currently the most sought after major retail space provider.

“We are working on the foundations of the main mall and hope to start main frame construction this July.”

For a first major project BASREC WLL has defined its ambitions with a project unlike any other in the region. Doha Festival City looks set to become a major regional attraction and the place to visit in the Gulf for many years to come.