When Dubai-based Invest Group Overseas (IGO) bought a piece of land in the city of Frisco, Texas, three years ago, little did they realise that it would end up being at the heart of one of the hottest areas of real estate in the whole of the United States.
Frisco is the fastest growing city in America, and IGO’s The Gate Project, a mixed-use undertaking in the city’s “Five Billion Dollar Mile”, has kick-started a fruitful partnership — and friendship — between the real estate developer and the city of Frisco.
Dr Anas Kozbari, CEO of IGO, says diversification was key behind The Gate Project, as he met with the mayor of Frisco Maher Maso in Dubai last month.
“Part of the mission of IGO is to always have an open-door policy,” Dr Kozbari says. “We are so proud of what’s going on right here in Dubai, and we would like to show the people that we work with the level of sophistication that Dubai has. Some people wouldn’t understand what’s going on until they come and see it, so it’s our mission as IGO’s management to invite such important people to come.”
It’s not the first time that Maso has been to Dubai, having been a guest at Cityscape after The Gate Project was announced in 2015.
“The better the project does, the better our community will be,” he says. “We want IGO to make money, because that means it’s successful. So I view it as: we’re going to come help and support you. I’m shaking hands in front of our model and telling people The Gate Project is great, but look where it’s at. It’s in a great community, in North Texas, so anything I can do to increase awareness that’s our approach.
It’s a message Maso has spread in China, Japan, Korea and the UK. Dubai, in particular, has been an eye-opener due to the fast pace of development, and he is impressed at the speed at which planning and building permissions are approved in the UAE, something not always common in the US.
“We have a true partnership with Dubai and IGO group,” Maso says. “It’s an opportunity to share best practices, to view what’s taking place here and take it back, and also share with leadership here what we are doing in our community.”
While specific practices in the two cities might differ, both Dr Kozbari and Maso were more keen to highlight the common ground.
“There are many similarities between the two communities,” Maso says. “Dubai really was a desert not that long ago and grew rapidly. Frisco was a farm, 3,000 people, no traffic lights, no industry or business or sports or tourism. Both communities grew rapidly, but not just grew rapidly, but grew with innovation, not always doing the same thing that’s always been done elsewhere. We created new systems, new processes, and the successes of both are clear.”
The Gate is very much in the mould of major Dubai luxury projects. It features 17 buildings and seven villas as part of a business and leisure hub in the centre of Frisco. There are 980 apartment units, a 54,500 sq ft retail area and dedicated water features.
“We chose the US because we believe the market is better than ever before,” Dr Kozbari says. “It’s a steady market, you don’t see a lot of sharp curves in the economy of the US in the past few years. As matter of fact, the economy has been steady since the crash we had in 2008. As a company we believe in diversification, but the hefty investments remain in Dubai. We chose Texas because we believe that it was able to avoid the harsh reality that took place elsewhere in the US.”
Dr Kozbari said IGO’s research found out that Frisco’s proximity to Dallas, a famously branded city, was one of the reasons behind the purchase of the land. It’s home to an excellent education system, has low taxation and is one of the most environmentally aware cities in the US.
It’s also being called the junior sport capital of the United States, with the Dallas Cowboys locating their headquarters across the road from The Gate Project. Maso has witnessed an incredible rate of progress since he moved to the city in 1992. Back then, Frisco, established in 1903, was home to 6,500 people and had been officially recognised as a city only since 1987.
By the time Maso was elected to council in 2000, it had grown to 33,000. He became mayor in 2008, and Frisco has continued to grow and is now home to 162,000 residents.
From six schools in 1996, there are now 86, and healthcare is thriving as well.
Maso says a decisive reason organisations such as the Dallas Cowboys and IGO are attracted to Frisco, alongside its obvious geographical convenience, is that it creates “true partnerships”.
“We already had a reputation that we can put deals together,” he says. “We’re not a big government.”
Maso praised the legislation that facilitates real estate developments in the UAE, and reiterated his desire to continue implementing shared best practices in Frisco.
“Cities get old, and if you do it [economic development] the same way, you’ll grow rapidly, do well for a while and eventually start to deteriorate,” Maso says.
“Governments don’t typically do research and development, but we do. We thought how do we sustain the community? Sustainability means different things to different people. We went out and looked at best practice and if we didn’t find what we needed, we built it.”
The Gate Project looks set to be a successful venture for both IGO and Frisco, but Dr Kozbari maintains that Dubai remains his firm’s focus in the coming years.
“I truly don’t see that in Dubai we have reached the point of saturation so far in our industry,” he says.
“[Thanks] to the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the vision in the country, when you mention Paris, London and Tokyo, you mention Dubai. Dubai has become a brand. The temperature can reach 45 degrees and you still see people coming from all over the world to vacation here.”
In particular, he called 2020, and the imminent Dubai Expo, “a decisive point”.
“We want to be part of this progress and part of the success of Dubai.”
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