It is fitting that the location for my meeting with Aldar’s chief executive Mohammed Al Mubarak is at the sales centre for its latest development on Yas Island, Yas Acres.
“Yas is a very special project for me because I have seen it grow. I have seen it come from an idea to become a reality at the moment,” he says.
It is not immediately obvious to all who visit what a visionary project Yas Island is from the snatched experiences we typically get of a place on which nobody yet lives. The 25 million visitors to Yas last year did not necessarily see the whole by spending a day at the Formula 1 in November, or catching a gig at the du Arena, or on a quick shopping trip to Ikea or even from dinner at Cipriani in the marina.
This is set to change from 2017 onwards.
Yas is currently at a “very important stage” of its maturity cycle because people will soon be “living on the island, working on the island, getting schooled on the island”, says Mr Al Mubarak.
Projects including Ansam and Mayan overlooking Yas Links golf course, West Yas aimed at UAE nationals, or Yas Acres on the northern, “quieter” side of the island, have all been launched in the past two years. Ansam is scheduled to begin to draw residents from next year.
Yas is a critical part of Aldar’s development strategy since 2014 when it returned to the market. Fifty-one per cent of its launches since then have been projects on the island.
Sensibly, prices have been kept capped at about Dh1,400 to Dh1,500 per square foot to ensure demand amid a lack of quality supply of prime property in Abu Dhabi. This strategy has had its reward.
Mr Al Mubarak talks about exceeding targets in terms of sales on Yas, with properties at Ansam more than 85 per cent sold, for example. Its strong sales record comes amid a softening in the overall property sector in the UAE as oil prices continue to languish at less than half their 2014 peaks of about US$110 per barrel.
However, Aldar has done well in a tough market, with Citibank research estimating total off-plan sales meeting Aldar’s own forecasts and bringing in Dh3.2 billion over a two-year period up to the end of last year.
While Yas right now flits in and out of the consciousness from weekend to weekend, rarely taking permanent hold in the mind of Abu Dhabi’s residents as they go about their working week, it is worth remembering that the emirate has had a long and successful history of bringing life to its beautiful but harsh natural landscape.
On Yas, these are the early pioneering days of what will be the heartbeat of Abu Dhabi in the years to come. Aldar has been at the frontier since inception. “I believe in the Yas story. This is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s story. He believed in this story 10 years ago. He clearly states what he wants on the island and what he sees the island will look like in 2020. His vision is becoming a reality every day. Every time I think of Yas my imagination runs wild,” says Mr Al Mubarak.
The activities and lifestyle available now and potentially on offer in the future excites him. He talks of an “unbelievable picture to tell and an unbelievable picture to see on Yas Island” which is continually evolving. The developer Miral, of which he is the chairman, last month announced the Warner Bros Abu Dhabi theme park, set to open in 2018. “That is going to be highly immersive, the technology that sits on that theme park is amazing, the designs, world class. No theme park anywhere is as immersive as this theme park, when you are in Gotham City, when you are in Metropolis, you are in these cities, you are taken to that dream,” Mr Al Mubarak says.
Aldar works with Miral to make sure the dream cannot but become a full fledged reality, that any blanks in the masterplan are filled. “Today, when Aldar sells a home, that person wants to know that in four or five years, when my home is done, that there is going to be new activities on the island.”
He says Yas is different to what is currently on offer at newer residential areas such as on Reem Island, which “is [the equivalent of] Manhattan”.
“Yas is a lot more comfortable, more family oriented. Bigger homes, bigger gardens, a lot of public amenities, massive public spaces. That’s what differentiates them. When you plan an island well, when you market an island well, it sells itself.”
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