Imad Dana

CEO of Al ZorahAl Zorah development is worth 220 billion U.A.E. dirham ($59.9 billion) will be a 12-kilometer squared self-contained city with housing, offices, retail, schools, hospitals and leisure facilities, including marinas and a number of 5-star resort hotels completed in different phases and within a time frame of seven to 15 years.

The value of the real estate sector in Ajman has risen to $33 billion and Ajman Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s latest report shows that foreign direct investment has exceeded the other emirates by 300%. How would you describe the current climate of the Ajman real estate sector?

Well currently, Ajman is emerging as one of the players in this sector due to many projects that have been launched in the past 2 years including Al Zorah which is in itself a 220 billion Dhs. or around 16 billion dollars, you know the value of it went completed.

What is fueling this massive sudden expansion? Dubai has started a long time ago, Abu Dhabi as well, why is Ajman just catching up on all these projects?

Well I think Ajman enjoys the government support of the real estate sector. I mean at Al Zorah we got a special Emiri decree declaring the area as a free hold and a free zone. Also, Al Zorah, I can speak about the project, enjoys a very nice geographic location, I mean it has 3 kilometers of water front, and a heart which is a mangrove area including the canals. It will be linked to the Emirates road which will make it 25 minutes away from Dubai Airport and 10 minutes from Sharjah international Airport. So I think all this combined is attracting people.

But this huge exponential growth in prices, don’t you think it is caused also by the speculators who just come and buy, wait a while, and then resell?

Well, I think the prices in Ajman today are much cheaper than the other Emirates. I don’t think it is high in Ajman yet. So it is still affordable and investors like it as value.

How lucrative is it to invest in Ajman?

As I said, all this combined with the lower prices than Dubai is very attractive to the investors. I mean in a matter of a few weeks we sold around 30 percent of the project amounting to close to 10 billion Dhs, in a matter of three weeks.

And as for the future property prices, what are your estimates by how much the property sector will grow in Ajman in 2008 and 2009?

I think the growth is there and will continue because the demand is strong and many projects are underway. So as long as the demand is there, they have to catch up and proceed with the supply.

Al Zorah Development (Private) Company Limited P.S.C. was incorporated on October 31, 2007 as a Free Zone Company. The company started only recently as a joint venture between Solidaire and the government of Ajman. How do you assess the first year of your operations?

Well I think though we were incorporated in October, actually we started with the beginning of the year. Like when we had the license issued and the decree from the government of Ajman, so we have around six months behind us. I believe during this period we have achieved a lot. We have finished the concept design of all the master plan, we have appointed all the major consultants on infrastructure works, we have sold 30 percent of the project and we stopped because the demand was there and we said we should stop somewhere, we achieved the sales of 10 billion, we now have staff , we have staffed the company, and in the last two to three weeks we have started actual construction outside by giving the first contract to raise the main roads to a higher level which will serve as the constructional roots when we start the big contract and which is the base of the finished roads when the time comes.

What exactly is Al Zorah role as a private company?

We are the master developer. Al Zorah owns the land which was transferred from the government in return of their 50 percent share and Solidaire international brought the other 50 percent which is the cash. So we are the owner of the land, we are the master developer, we are to build the infrastructure and make sure all the buildings follow certain design guide lines which we are currently preparing.

As a joint venture, 50 percent is owned by Solidere, 50 percent by the government of Ajman. How do you assess your relationship between public and private sectors? Is there a lot of cooperation?

Yes, I think our chair man, Sheikh Rashid, who is also the head of the municipality. I think we have full operation from the government on a daily basis and whenever we need their support, it is available.

And in return as a private company, how do you contribute towards Ajman?

The project is part of Ajman and we will enhance Ajman’s economy and we are trying to employ Ajmani nationals and we are letting this first contract was given to an Ajmani company. So in that sense I think we are contributing.

The Al Zorah development is worth 220 billion U.A.E. dirham ($59.9 billion) will be a 12-kilometer squared self-contained city with housing, offices, retail, schools, hospitals and leisure facilities, including marinas and a number of 5-star resort hotels completed in different phases and within a time frame of seven to 15 years. When completed, the aim to house 200,000 residents and workers. What does this development mean for Ajman and how will it impact all the different facets of the economy, starting from tourism, real estate sector on to the local economy?

Well the purpose of Al Zorah as a complete city is to have its residents work in the same place, send their kids to schools in the same location, they can enjoy the hotels and the retails. You know, go shopping without going to Dubai. This is the main thing and Al Zorah will have a big hotel district, around six or seven 5-star resorts which will also be a magnet for tourists. So, the idea is to bring them so that they can stay in Ajman and enjoy the nice geographic features, at the same time they can go and visit Dubai. So it is not like coming to Dubai and coming to visit Ajman, they come to Ajman and they can visit other emirates. This is the purpose of Al Zorah, it is a complete city.

What are the challenges you face, I mean it looks like everything is very perfectly planned. What are the immediate challenges you are facing in these projects?

Well like any other project, it is complex. We have sold today around 400 lots, so imagine one day soon there will be 400 contractors plus the canal digging, the logistics of all this. That is the challenge, to finish on time. Thanks to the good sale the company has the catch so we have the resources but it is the complexity of things that I think is the biggest challenge.

What about Ajman itself? Dubai is very famous, Abu Dhabi is growing. I think you are working on the image of Ajman by communicating the work, however of course you cannot compare Ajman exposure and being known as Dubai is known. Is that a challenge for you? What are you doing for it? What is your whole strategy on that?

Well it is known that Ajman is the smallest emirate among the seven emirates. However, recently in the last year for example, since we came it is in the news everyday, in every paper. The infrastructure in the emirates has been undergoing major expansion, you can see many bridges, many roads that really happened in the last year and are functional. There is interest in buying and in the real estate market also. So I think what you said could be true two years ago but not anymore.

Maybe on a world wide level, when we are talking about when you reach Europe, when you talk about the USA. Basically they don’t know Ajman as well as Dubai.

Yes it is true. However, Ajman launched a campaign 4-5 months ago on CNN and on all international broadcasting television and what not, about promoting Ajman itself. I think it is a success because of the interest we got in our project. So I believe they are doing the right things and Ajman is now emerging. I read, I don’t remember which article, that said Ajman and another place are the best investment locations in the world. So it is becoming a known place.

You held the first pre-selling main; do you see a lot of interest in properties developed by Al Zorah?

The sales were for land, so the buyers will develop themselves or they might sell to other investors and the other investors will develop. Al Zorah will develop certain areas like the shopping malls or the publicly used areas; we prefer to keep all the Marinas for example.

And for the second half, the phase 2 sales, when is this going to take place?

Today we will start selling again after Ramadan, so sometime in October.

So Rami Dabbas, head of the real estate development, Ajman Investment & Development Authority, CEO of Aqaar Properties, said: “We are trying to recreate another Monaco”. Do you think it is possible to take Ajman to the Monaco brand level?

Mr. Dabbas is a board member in Al Zorah so he knows what is happening. I don’t think he meant by having Ajman like Monaco. He probably meant like Monaco in Europe, Ajman will be in the area. It is not to compare Ajman to Monaco as such, but the place of Monaco in relation to its neighboring countries, yes it will be like Ajman in relation to its neighbors.

How do you see Ajman, let’s say in five years or ten years?

I think it will be a destination to many who come to the UAE. We are trying to avoid all the problems that others faced like the traffic jams, I mean in Al Zorah we are creating a public transport system, we discourage people from using their cars from the beginning. We will have a bicycle lane, this horizontal mall will connect all the buildings so people can walk in a covered area in the summer and in the winter, it is nice any way. So avoid cars and we are avoiding roads that you can not cross, it is known here that if you want to cross a road you need a taxi, we are avoiding that in Al Zorah so all the boulevards are at a human scale. Plus, we avoided all high rises everywhere, so the high rise buildings are just at the edge of the development, the inner part is all low rise and green and water.

You mentioned that you are going to announce in October, you were going to talk about the new phase, could you tell us and the viewers what you are looking at introducing in terms of sales and so on?

Three months is a long time in this part of the world so I am not sure what but we would probably have finished a big part of the detailed design so we know more of which areas could be released. Maybe we would have the marine works contractors so we know when the reclaimed islands will be completed. Before we decide what really will be offered for sale.

By adapting best practices in environmentally-friendly design and energy-efficient infrastructure, Al Zorah will keep its ecological footprint to a minimum. How do you integrate the corporate social responsibility in this project?

Well the protection of the environment is our goal and we will make sure that we keep it. This is a general statement, now what are the details? First, we will preserve the beach, this is very important. The shape of reclamation is done in such a way that the current beach is maintained and maybe more beaches will be created on the islands. That is the first thing. We did not compromise that we need land, it is a crescent shape and the center is still open to the waves to maintain the beach. The second thing we will do is the mangrove area which is a huge area and a center; we will preserve it and really enrich it. The third part is to introduce more canals so almost every property overlooks water. And this canal system will be flushed and will enhance the mangroves so it will not be a problem, it will be an added value to preserve the mangroves. And fourth, in the design briefs to buildings we will ensure we will have maybe district cooling, maybe we will introduce shading structures, direction of the buildings to avoid the need for more electrical power. The goal is to do things that will require 50 percent of the energy if we don’t do it. So, all this combined are the small things that will add to the protection of the environment.

Our report is going to be published in October before the City Scape, are there any important announcements you would like to make to our audience, to our viewers and readers?

Well I think we need to progress and show progress on the ground, I think this is the main thing. We don’t want to announce things that are not happening, so probably by the time of Dubai City Scape, as I said we would have finished maybe half the roads, you know it is 13 kilometers, so maybe half of it will be completed. Maybe we would have handed over some of the plots for the owners to start their construction. We would have maybe selected the marine works contractors and have a better time schedule of the infrastructure works. So all of this, I think we are working this summer to achieve towards City Scape Dubai.

To finalize the interview, is there anything else you would like to add anything about Ajman, about Al Zorah project for our viewers and readers?

Well I just want to say that people visiting the UAE should discover emerging Ajman, you know, the tranquility. I think with time, with the projects coming into reality people will have to see that. There is a place called Ajman, it’s a nice place, come and visit.

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