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Site Visit: Akoya by Damac

Damac's first move from high-rises into masterplanned schemes may well be a step up, but the firm believes that building horizontally is easier than vertically

Akoya Park villas set in the 4.3mn ft2 private park.
Akoya Park villas set in the 4.3mn ft2 private park.

The project and technical teams at Damac Properties must have had a love of jigsaw puzzles in their youth.

The particular puzzle they are currently turning their skillset to is Akoya by Damac – Damac Properties’ debut masterplanned Dubailand development.

And there are certainly many pieces to this 42mn ft2, $6bn project off Umm Suqeim Road in Dubai.

Billed as a luxury golf community, it has the 7,205-yard, par 71 course Trump International Golf Course as its centrepiece. There is a 4.5mn ft2 park with open, green spaces and over 2,000 properties, ranging from luxury, limited-edition bespoke villas and mansions to serviced apartments.

There is also a 2.5km retail strip, The Drive at Akoya by Damac, schools, a 132kV substation and a hospital.

And all of this is being carefully put together by a raft of construction companies including Ghantoot, Trojan, Al Raqa, Pivot and Delta.

The company floated on the London Stock Exchange earlier this year and is now seeking a dual listing on the Dubai Financial Market. Niall McLoughlin, senior vice president, told Construction Week: “Our market cap is $4.5bn. It was time to move to what’s next and that’s masterplanning development.

“In Dubai, there’s only one or two developers who do that – the rest are plot developers. We’ve grown to a scale where we’re capable of delivering masterplanned developments.

“Over the past decade, we have delivered 11,000 high-rise units. This is our first horizontal development. It’s a lot easier. A villa is a lot easier to build than an 84-storey tower. Developing with a multi-contracting business model makes it easier for us to deliver the various pods within the overall development.”

He added: “Now that we are into master community development, one of the things we do to mitigate our risk is we split our contractors so we do not have one contractor for Akoya by Damac; we have multiple contractors for various requirements.”

Billed as bringing Beverly Hills to Dubai, the site is almost 15% larger than Central Park in New York City, USA, and is one of the largest master developments under comprehensive construction in the United Arab Emirates.

“We started discussing the land in 2011; we procured the land in May 2013 and we announced the project on 28 June last year,” said McLoughlin, who was previously involved in the masterplanning of Dubai Festival City.

“Akoya by Damac is the busiest site in town.”

US billionaire Donald J. Trump swept into Dubai earlier this year with bold predictions that his golf course would not only be one of the finest in the Middle East, but would be on a par with the very best the world has to offer.
Designed by renowned landscape architect Gil Hanse – Golf magazine’s ‘Golf Course Architect of the Year’ – Trump’s first creation in the Emirate will be a challenging par 71 of some 7,205 yards.

The latest addition to Dubai’s plethora of courses will be fully grassed in Q1 2015. There are 12 holes completely grassed at the moment in addition to the driving range, the lakes are in (and are being used as a valuable tool in helping to irrigate the surrounding greenery), while sand capping and shaping is now complete. Earthworks were carried out by Al Naboodah Contracting.

McLoughlin said: “Preparation is also underway for the Trump International Golf clubhouse, which has an eight-metre elevation on the site.

“The designs have all been finished and we’re now at a point of detailed design and construction for that. It’s about a 24-month build on the clubhouse. Construction will start at the end of this year, early next year.”

As impressive as the golf course will be, however, this development is about much more than Trump-branded fairways and greens.

The property tycoon himself has put his name to Trump Estates – a portion of the scheme containing 100 luxury mansions which overlook the second, third, fourth and eighth holes.

“All the Trump Estates platform has been readied for construction. That’s about to commence and there’s various bits of work going on around that,” said McLoughlin, who confirmed construction work will start before the end of the year.

Interiors have been designed by Ivanka Trump, daughter of billionaire Donald.

The mansions form part of around 25 real estate clusters in total – more than 2,000 villas are currently at various stages of construction.

The project also includes a selection of Fendi-styled villas and a Dubai first – serviced villas, which will be branded in collaboration with Paramount Hotels and Resorts.

McLoughlin said: “What we do is we break it down into clusters. When we look at the golf course villas at Akoya by Damac we have 2,145 under contract to companies such as Ghantoot, Trojan, Al Raqa, Pivot, Delta. They’re all contractors who have come in and we’ve given them that cluster to develop.

“That helps us as a developer and the 600 people we have in-house in our project delivery department work with these individual contractors in teams to deliver them. Obviously, they work to the whole development schedule.”

Along the outer edges of the development, areas to be known as Silver Springs and Queens Meadows are the furthest forward in terms of construction, with building works up to the second floor and a completion date scheduled for the next 12 months.

“People will be sitting on their balconies looking over a completed golf course at the end of 2015,” said McLoughlin.

And work is also well underway on the Golf View Apartments, Golf Serviced Apartments and The Drive at Akoya.

Meanwhile, the 132kV power station, which is being constructed by ETA Star and will power the entire development, is currently 70% complete.

McLoughlin explained that parts of the plan have been modified and enhanced since its original inception – the most notable being The Drive at Akoya by Damac – a retail strip inspired by Rodeo Drive and the Champs Élysées in Paris, which originally stretched along 1.3km, but is now 2.5km.

He said: “There’s things been added on, there’s things been changed, there’s things been dropped. As we’re moving with the design of anything this size and this calibre, it evolves and it grows.

“We always had a big retail component and The Drive at Akoya by Damac has evolved as has the outdoor component. In Dubai, for eight months of the year, the weather is beautiful.

“People like being outdoors so we’re very focused on a walk area, similar to some famous walks around the world, Champs Élysées, Rodeo Drive, or even here in Dubai, the Walk in JBR. These are the kind of places people like and we had the opportunity of integrating that into the masterplan.”

The new extended attraction will start from the ‘Catwalk’, a community convenience retail centre located near the entrance of Akoya by Damac and anchored by the Waitrose chain.

It then runs along the various attractions including the outdoor ice-skating rink, outdoor cinema, the miniature golfing attraction and the interactive children’s entertainment area.

Above The Drive will be the first hotel from Naia by Damac. Naia luxury hotel rooms present the opportunity for investors to gain access to Dubai’s booming tourism market. The project is expected to be completed in Q1 2018.
In addition to the Naia Hotel, a second building will feature Naia hotel apartments managed by Naia by Damac. The project also includes a state-of-the-art gymnasium, swimming pool, and steam and sauna facilities.

McLoughlin said: “We are targeting that the complete development will be finished by the end of 2018 and that’ll include The Drive at Akoya by Damac.”

It is a tight deadline, but one that McLoughlin and his colleagues are determined to make after securing a second masterplan site in the summer in the shape of Akoya Oxygen – a 55mn ft2 development located just 10 minutes away from the Akoya by Damac site.

McLoughlin said: “Site clearing work has started on Akoya Oxygen.

“It’s the next step in our evolution as a developer and the proof is in the pudding. We’re walking the walk.”

Akoya by Damac and Akoya Oxygen are just two of many huge projects announced in Dubai over the last two years.

And the Dubai property developer is confident the Emirate has a bright future as it continues to emerge from the financial crisis of 2008.

He said: “Dubai has known tourism and growth since the early 1970s. There was a recession in 2008, but everyone knew real estate is circular, it will come back. Properly-run businesses of a certain scale, they didn’t disappear during the recession.

“Here we are at the other side of the recession and some of our main competitors remain on the other side of the recession. All the not-as-well-managed companies are all gone.”

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