By Elizabeth Broomhall
UAE mall developer insists it is long-term investor, despite bloody crackdown
UAE mall developer Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) has said it has no plans to exit Syria despite ongoing violent political unrest in the country.
The owner of Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates said it was still progressing with its mixed-use mega project planned for capital city Damascus, which it views as a long term investment.
“We always saw Syria and that project as a long term project,” said Peter Walichnowski, CEO of MAF Properties.
“We own the land, so we’re a long term investor and we’re currently in the design phase. The construction start isn’t really tied to the troubles, because Damascus is relatively quiet relative to other parts of the country.”
He added however that a final date for construction had not yet been decided, and was subject to getting approvals from relevant authorities and finding the right contractor for the job.
“This is probably going to be the largest construction project in Syria, and there aren’t that many big contractors there that can do this sort of project because the procurement methodology is very complex.
“So we expect Syrian companies to form partnerships with foreign construction companies. So it’s not really under our control when we’d start - it depends when the construction companies are formed that can do these sort of projects.”
MAF first drew up plans for its Syrian mega project in 2008; dubbing the country as a “hungry market” with a lot of “pent up demand” according to media reports.
The plan was to invest an initial US$1bn (AED3.67bn) in the development, and to build in phases over a period of ten years.
The first phase of the Khams Shamat tourism development, which was to include the Mall of Syria - now named Khams Shamat Mall - was originally expected to be completed within 18 months.
The mall itself was to have a GLA of more than 200,000 sqm and over 300 shops, and due to be accompanied by hotels, business districts, touristic apartments and modern amenities.
Its plans have seemingly been interrupted by the global financial recession which hit in late 2008, and by the ongoing political unrest in Syria which began last year.
But despite the project’s delays, Walichnowski said it remained part of the company’s wider regional expansion programme, under which MAF planned to double the size of the business within the next five to seven years.
Other projects in the pipeline include mega malls in Abu Dhabi, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
A number of high-profile projects in Syria have been cancelled due to violent unrest in the country.
Hotel operators Accor, Rotana and Kempinski are among those that have either stalled or cancelled new developments in Syria.