There is more to Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island than The Louvre. Alongside tourism it is set to provide a sustainable, thriving community, Nabil Al Kendi tells John Bambridge
Paced and purposeful, Nabil Al Kendi has the look of a happily busied man. In the role of chief development officer, he was, until last month, responsible for overseeing the development of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which is arguably the most extensive single masterplan ever witnessed by the emirate.
The name of the island is associated a sense of well-being in Arabic, and as Al Kendi explains, there is plenty of Saadiyat to share with those willing to participate.
However, while Saadiyat Cultural District — with its dramatic triumvirate of museums — may well be the lynchpin of the 24km2 island’s blueprint, the truer aspiration of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) is to develop Saadiyat into a thriving and lasting community that will ultimately hold some 145,000 people. With this vision in mind, TDIC is extending a hand to one and every sound investor with an eye for the future.
“Saadiyat is a huge island and it has a variety of districts. Our role as the master developer of Saadiyat, as well as other projects, is to encourage and welcome investors and other developers,” he explains. “Most of the masterplan is done, and we have planned out the land uses, for instance, the beach district for residential and hospitality projects.
“Here, along with the St. Regis hotel we have the Park Hyatt, which is not a TDIC development — it was done by Abu Dhabi National Hotels — this was the first. But for other partners to invest in the island, they need to make money, so we are making sure to integrate the right infrastructure to encourage this and bring the island up.”
In the varied role as not just a master developer but also the developer on individual projects, TDIC is in a position to optimally align its real estate interests with the interests of the community.
Setting TDIC’s benchmark on standards in this field are the various villas and apartments on Saadiyat, which flow in a swathe of residential space along the spine of the beach district and golf course. Al Kendi notes: “421 villas have been stretched over five kilometres, all along the golf course. They are a really special touch — you hardly see these types of development in Abu Dhabi. There are a good number: neither too many nor too few, and Saadiyat is becoming a top address in the capital.”
On the Saadiyat Beach Villas, Al Jaber Building as the main contractor, together with Hilalco on infrastructure, have presently completed two phases, and a third is well on its way, while at the same time TDIC also has an apartment option.
“The Saadiyat Beach Residences comprise six buildings and almost 500 units. Three of those have been handed over and the overall development is doing fantastically — most of the units released have gone,” notes Al Kendi. “Our developments are among projects setting the tone and prices in Abu Dhabi. Before we had all the visionary projects, but right now we have more than 1,000 families living in Saadiyat — it has become a community.”
Dhabi Contracting, in its lead role on this project, noted TDIC’s crisp team work, and drive for quality transformed a potentially unremarkable half-dozen five-storey structures.
Al Kendi confirms: “On our projects all over Saadiyat, quality is something that we don’t sacrifice. If you go to our apartments, the size, the quality, the finish — it is all high-end and we have spent extra on it. The regular customer maybe doesn’t see it as they come in, but as they live in it they will really understand the value of all of these extra elements.”
On top of this intrinsic emphasis quality, Saadiyat’s masterplan also makes provision for community infrastructure like a public beach inaugurated earlier this year. In a vindicatory measure of the demand, the new facility received 6,000 visitors in the first couple of weeks. Through such successes TDIC has demonstrated the clear, even avid, demand for its end result.
This attention to detail will also play an important role in determining the fate of the next stage in the evolution of Saadiyat in 2014, when a branch of New York University open its doors to 2,500 students. In a telling indicator of promise, the anchor institution has already in turn lured in Abu Dhabi’s own rendition of the UK’s Cranleigh School, with which Saadiyat will be able to provide education from pre-school to university.
Al Kendi notes: “The university neighbourhood is a unique masterplan that we have come up with. We don’t want to do everything ourselves — we have released 38 plots to open the door for investors to develop. The university will involve numerous faculties and administrative people, and there are lots of things we could do to make it a community and to generate these opportunities. It is going to be one of the most active areas within both Saadiyat and all of Abu Dhabi.”
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