Sharjah Holding is generating major opportunities for contractors and developers in the emirate. CW speaks to Khalifa Bin Braik, VP of asset management and business development.
Sharjah is home to 950,000 residents, and generates an estimated 33% of the UAE's industrial GDP. Despite these statistics, it has lagged behind the rest of the region in terms of residential and retail development. Now a new investment vehicle, in the form of a unique JV between the public and private sector, is championing Sharjah as a major growth area.
"Sharjah Holding is a community-focused real-estate developer. Our shareholders are Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Properties and the Sharjah government. MAF Properties has a proven track record in shopping mall, retail, hospitality and hypermarket development, and the Sharjah government is committed to facilitating all development in the emirate through a range of support activities and functions.
"It is leveraging the private-sector expertise of MAF Properties for community-focused developments in Sharjah." Bin Braik stresses the strategic nature of the JV between the Sharjah government and MAF, with the Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, HH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, and Majid Al Futtaim personally signing a Memorandum of Understanding in this regard.
"We have part of the core Majid Al Futtaim Properties team, which has moved to Sharjah Holding, including our CEO Walid al Hashimi, who was central to the development of this strategic partnership."
Sharjah Holding was established in 2008, at the height of the property boom.
"Consequently we have had to adjust to the new market conditions. We continued with the same number of projects, but took our time to basically look at things more cautiously." This also gave the company time to consolidate its skills base. "We have looked at selecting individuals with the right skills required for our development and project teams we had initially."
The focus is adding value to the communities of Sharjah, stresses Bin Braik. "We are looking at developing a masterplanned community, the first gated community in Sharjah. It has access to Emirates Road and connectivity to University City and Sharjah Airport." Bin Braik says this is a new concept that Sharjah Holding is introducing to the emirate.
"You have around 950,000 people living in Sharjah, of whom 40% are Arab expats. A lot of Arab expats have invested in industrial activities and have their factories in Sharjah. It makes perfect sense for them to have their residences in Sharjah, and we are committed to providing them with high-quality accommodation they can own," says Bin Braik.
In terms of the latest progress with Sharjah Holding's residential development, he explains: "We have started construction of the road that takes you to the sales centre and the 42 villas which are part of our first phase. We have received all the tenders back, and are currently assessing and reviewing them." The aim is to finalise this process after Ramadan.
"The other 50% of our time is focused on the demands of the communities, which has resulted in our development of the Matajer neighbourhood shopping mall," says Bin Braik.
Sharjah Holding aims to have four neighbourhood shopping malls operational by the middle of next year. The typical size of these range from 2,000m2 gross leasable area (GLA) up to 7,500m2 (GLA).
"Carrefour Market or any other anchor tenant would normally utilise 50% of that space. Communities at large are used to monthly grocery shopping for this reason; we selected Carrefour Market to encourage daily or weekly fresh-food buying habits.
"The other 50% of the mall would typically have high-quality retail such as food and beverage outlets, cafés, laundry services, a pharmacy and bank services. We are focused on the community requirements and needs, based on thorough market research, in developing the leasing strategy for a Matajer centre," explains Bin Braik.
"Currently we are focused on Sharjah. We are a Sharjah developer, developing in Sharjah, for Sharjah. Yes, the creation of the vehicle is a holding company, and it implies that, in the future, we would have specific investment vehicles focusing on, you know, different sectors. However, for the time being, our strategy is neighbourhood shopping malls and residential development."
Bin Braik says the strategic JV between MAF Properties and the Sharjah government is a ‘best of both worlds' combination. "Sharjah is rich in culture, has world-class education and an embedded family-focused environment. MAF Properties is the leading developer for high-end shopping mall destinations for families.
So you have the family component linked in both, and we are building on those characteristics. "Sharjah Holding is the first true Public Private Partnership (PPP). We have had tremendous support from both stakeholders.
The proven track record of MAF Properties, coupled with the ambitious strategy of the Sharjah government, has helped shape our strategy," says Bin Braik. He adds that Sharjah Holding operates in conjunction with the economic and tourism departments, and other entities such as Shurooq in terms of tourism.