Al Maryah Central super mall 'will thrive without a ski slope'

Kevin Ryan, the chief operating officer and managing director of Gulf Related, the company building Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Central shopping centre, is adamant he does not need a ski slope in what will be the emirates’ newest super-regional mall.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about whether we needed a ski slope and the answer is that we do not,” Mr Ryan says looking out of his 25th floor office window at the cranes on the site of the vast 2.3 million square foot mall currently being built in the capital’s new financial district.

Mr Ryan, a veteran developer with 27 years experience of putting together shopping centres in the United States, is overseeing the development.

The mega development, situated next to the luxury Galleria Mall, which forms a key part of the Abu Dhabi Government fund Mubadala’s vision for Al Maryah island, is currently 40 per cent leased and due to be completed in March 2018.

The new mall is set to include Abu Dhabi’s first Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s department stores, link up with the Galleria, which opened in 2013, and provide the capital with five new public parks as well as a library.

But, unlike Reem Mall, which is currently being developed on nearby Reem Island and which is also scheduled to open in 2018, Al Maryah Central has no snow park.

“You know what? How many times do people here go to that ski slope in Mall of the Emirates [in Dubai]?” Mr Ryan asks. “I would say for most people, it’s not that many. It’s very impactful from the perspective of ‘hey we’ve got a ski slope’ and it is helpful for tourism. But Abu Dhabi is not as reliant on tourism as Dubai.”

Instead of a ski slope, Gulf Related is putting its faith in the new department stores as well as a total of five public parks – measuring some 10,000 square metres – around the scheme, which it hopes will draw the crowds on a more regular basis. The first of these – a promenade running along the waterside outside the mall is already up and partly in operation as a walkway and urban running track.

The project will also include two rooftop parks – one designed as a sports theme park and the other as a children’s park, both of which are located on the top of the complex’s elevator cores. And there will also be a formal garden on the roof outside the department stores and a huge pavement space outside the mall that the developer expects to be uses for things such as outdoor markets and ice-skating rinks.

And, Mr Ryan says, the mall will also include a large public library – another of the requirements of the Abu Dhabi authorities and one he says will act as a free draw to families.

“You want to go to the ski slope, you pay. You want to go to the family entertainment centre, you pay,” Mr Ryan says. “One of our big differentiators is that we have a lot of free stuff. We were required to do some of this but we are taking this far beyond what was required.”

The race between Al Maryah Central and Reem Mall to become Abu Dhabi’s second super-regional shopping mall is indeed hotting up after Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council (UPC) granted the Reem Mall detailed planning approval in January.

Reem Mall, a planned 2.8 million square feet shopping centre on the south side of Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island, is vying with nearby Al Maryah Central to become the capital’s second vast shopping emporium after the 2.5 million sq ft Yas Mall, which opened its doors in November 2014.

Following the UPC’s approval of the concept in July, enabling works started on the US$1 billion Reem Mall at the end of December.

And the prize could well be a big one, with whichever mall succeeds in opening first getting the chance to win the loyalty of a swathe of the Abu Dhabi populace who shop for far longer than those of most world cities and spend on average more money.

Gulf Related predicts that between 20 million and 25 million visitors will flock to its property each year, something Mr Ryan describes as “very obtainable when you look at regional performance and Abu Dhabi performance”.

To put that into context, according to statistics Centre – Abu Dhabi, the entire population of Abu Dhabi emirate stood at 2.6 million in 2014 – meaning that in order to reach those figures, every resident of the emirate would have to visit the mall about 10 times each a year.

Still, when you consider that Yas Mall’s operator Aldar Properties says it attracted 18 million visitors in 2015, the target does not seem quite so ambitious.

“We expect a lot of repeat visitation,” Mr Ryan says. “Plus there’s a tourism component and an office worker component – especially for food and beverage. There’s a whole mathematical analysis. We’re not making it up. We’ve done formal studies on this as well looking at regional competition, how their centres are performing, the type of footfall they’re producing and then creating projections based on that.”

So, with basement work on Al Maryah Central now complete and cranes now starting to construct the massive walls and core of the mega mall, Gulf Related is hoping that the concept has got enough to bring the shoppers in.

“One of the things about being a mall of the current generation is you have to be entertaining – particularly in this region where people have a propensity to stay multiple hours,” Mr Ryan says.

“First and foremost we’re a shopping destination that’s orientated to the Abu Dhabi community.”

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