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Site visit: Polo Townhouses, Meydan, Dubai

IGO Property Development's Eng Muhammad Hussain and Dr Anaz Kozbari on how it plans to drive its Polo Townhouses project at Meydan over the finishing line

Masterplan of the Polo Townhouses project.
Masterplan of the Polo Townhouses project.

When it comes to confidence in their product, the folks at Invest Group Overseas (IGO) – part of Moafaq Al Gaddah’s MAG Group – have it in spades.

The developer invited Construction Week out to its Polo Townhouses project to demonstrate its capabilities.

Situated in the heart of Dubai’s Meydan City – a stone’s throw away from the famed racecourse and hotel – the Polo Townhouses look set to establish themselves as a prime piece of UAE real estate. Every last one of the units at the site has been spoken for.

The development, which forms part of Meydan Gated Community, consists of 106 G+1 townhouses spread across a net land area of more than 30,000m2. At present, the main contractor, Technical Architect Contractors, and the infrastructure contractor, China State Construction Engineering Co, are working simultaneously to ensure that the project is delivered on time, within budget, and to a higher spec than was originally promised.

The man tasked with coordinating this mammoth undertaking is IGO Property Development’s Eng Mohammad Hussein (left), project manager for the Polo Townhouses development.

Infrastructure work at the site only got underway last month, and is taking place at the same time as many of the site works.

“Because of this, we have had to alter our logistics plan to accommodate the requirements of both the main contractor and the infrastructure contractor, in accordance with the site conditions,” said Hussein.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, to find that the construction site was a hive of activity. Work is taking place in a two-shift pattern between the hours of 6am and 2am, with an average of 1,000 construction professionals on site every day.

Accompanied by a plethora of construction machinery, ranging from nifty skid-steer loaders to giant excavators, every inch of the development seemed to be occupied by busy hands – so much so that our photographer had to wait until workers started leaving for lunch before he began snapping.

That’s not to say that these activities are unfocused. It’s all hands on deck, but with good reason, according to Hussein.

“We need to deliver on target, and if we can, ahead of time,” he said. “We must also ensure that we deliver the best possible product in terms of our clients’ expectations.

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IGO’s signature will be all over this project so it has to be of the highest-possible quality,” Hussein added.
The IGO PD project manager is clearly passionate about the Polo Townhouses, but he is not the only person striving to over-deliver. As managing partner and chief executive officer of IGO Property Development Dr Anas A Kozbari is clear that he and his employees have a formidable reputation to uphold, and to build upon.

“For us, reputation is everything; it truly is,” he said.

“IGO doesn’t work under the notion of ‘hit and run’. Our group of companies has been active in this market for more than three decades, and we are going to stick around for many years to come. We are committed to contributing to the ongoing success of Dubai, but we cannot remain part of that story unless we maintain the standards of Dubai. That’s what we are trying to do here,” Kozbari explained.

Indeed, the Polo Townhouses are by no means the only channel through which IGO is looking to cement its reputation. A few minutes’ drive from the development is the future site of the Polo Residences, an 873-apartment project comprising 29 G+4 buildings on the Diamond Business Park site.

Despite the magnitude of these developments, Kozbari made clear that he goes to great lengths not to limit himself to the ‘big picture’. Legacy building, according to the hands-on CEO, is all about immersing oneself in the minutiae of a project.

“We live by one particular motto: the process is the product,” he explained.

“We believe that if you perfect the process, you will inevitably perfect your product, and when the product turns into reality, it becomes history.

“Perfecting the process requires all of us – me included – to get involved in the nitty-gritty of our projects. I have always said that whatever our clients see at the outset must be improved in the run-up to completion. For this reason, all of the finishing materials – any fixtures and fittings that the end consumer is going to see and touch – have to be personally approved by me,” Kozbari revealed.

He wasn’t exaggerating. One of the first stops on my tour of the site was the Polo Townhouses’ samples room. Around the periphery of the cabin – which will ultimately be cleared to make way for the community’s 1,858m2 clubhouse – an array of finishing materials are displayed, all sporting the CEO’s signature. The vast majority of these materials have been upgraded from those picked out during the specification process. What’s more, the cost of these improvements has been covered by IGO itself.

“For the flooring of the townhouses – both downstairs and in the living area on the first floor – we’ve chosen to use 30mm-thick, natural marble from Spain,” said Hussein.

“We’ve also taken the decision to use wood-finish, ceramic flooring from Italy in the bedrooms, and upgrade to solid wood panel doors throughout,” he added.

What followed from Hussein was a whirlwind exposition of the finishing materials that IGO has chosen to improve from their original specifications.

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Ironmongery, aluminium and other metal finishes; wiring and circuitry; handrails and balustrades; bathroom and
kitchen fixtures – all have received the premium treatment.

But why? If the clients were satisfied with the original specifications, why did Kozbari decide to incur additional costs? As he explained, it all comes back to reputation. ‘Satisfactory’ simply isn’t good enough, he argues.

“We are always above standard when we hand over, and we are very proud of this fact,” proclaimed the CEO.

“I like to leave my fingerprints on all of IGO’s projects. I truly believe that we should ingrain the IGO name within everything that we do. We cannot achieve this goal unless our product is of sufficient quality. As such, we do everything within our power to perfect the product to the point whereby end users are genuinely proud to live in their townhouse or apartment. They should be proud of the property into which they have invested their money,” Kozbari added.

This is a view that is reinforced by the company’s director of sales and marketing, Talal Al Gaddah.

“A premium development should serve more than the purpose of providing high quality accommodation and facilities to investors. It should also function to enhance its locality and to blend harmoniously with its environs,” Al Gaddah said.

He explains that the UAE’s heritage of horse racing was therefore channeled when the company created the concept for these two developments, which is apt given that the townhouses sit on a site next to Dubai’s Meydan City racecourse.

“Unique to the development and echoing the equestrian roots of the project is the extensive use of greenery – with an industry-leading split of 60% landscaping, 40% development,” he added.

“We are extremely proud of the Polo Residences and the Polo Townhouses, as the collaboration between leading architects and designers for their development has resulted in a serene and peaceful environment for residents.”

Whilst this philosophy is certainly laudable, the finest finishing materials in the world and the most pleasant surroundings will not add up to much unless the core townhouses are built on time and to spec. With this in mind, I returned to the construction site to discuss the sizeable fleet of machinery that was toiling away under the Dubai sun.

Naturally, the kit on site at any one time will depend on the stage of construction. When I visited the Polo Townhouses, Hussein offered up his daily equipment report to provide a glimpse into the units that were being used.

Present on the day were six telehandlers, a six-tonne wheel loader, two 20-tonne mobile cranes, a skid-steer loader, a backhoe loader, an excavator, and a roller. Supplementing the construction equipment were 11 tower lights, 45kVA, 110kVA, and 250kVA generators, and a 6x6 tipper truck.

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“The JCB Loadall telehandlers are the most important machines on site at present,” Hussein pointed out.

“They are being used for the transportation and delivery of materials around the site. We have a schedule for these machines. The loaders are taken from their designated zones to the specific areas where they are to be used. They are then returned to these zones following implementation,” he explained.

This level of organisation is vital for IGO and its contractors, especially when one considers the amount of activity that is taking place at the construction site. Military precision enables all involved to maximise efficiency, and to minimise clutter.

A multi-boom concrete pump had also been supporting operations at the site. This is not necessarily the type of unit that immediately springs to mind when one thinks about a horizontal project like the Polo Townhouses. However, as Hussein explained, it is the limited space that makes such a machine necessary.

“The brands used are subject to our concrete suppliers, but we have had to enlist the services of a 42m-long boom for concrete placement,” he said.

“Some of these roads are closed because work is taking place.

“This means that we can’t bring a pump into the middle of the site. We therefore have to raise the boom over structures. A 42m-long, multi-section boom is a valuable tool,” commented Hussein.

It’s clear that IGO and its partners are investing a great deal of effort into ensuring that the Polo Townhouses are completed to a high standard, but more than this, one gets the distinct impression that the developer has pitted itself in a race against time.

The official handover deadline, meanwhile, is June 2016, so what’s the rush? Well, in the same way that ‘satisfactory’ is not an option for Kozbari when it comes to product quality, ‘punctuality’ is not good enough in terms of the timeframe.

“I truly hope that we can deliver the Polo Townhouses ahead of schedule, before the end of 2015 even,” he said.
“This is going to be tough, but it is nevertheless my goal.

“As I said, I want the Polo Townhouses – and the Polo Residences – to exceed the expectations of our clients. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a challenge; it would be more accurate to call it a promise from me to them,” he added.

One might assume that this would be ambition enough for Kozbari and his team, but apparently not. IGO has a selection of other projects on the horizon, both here in the Middle East and farther afield.

“We have been studying a couple of other projects right here in Dubai,” he revealed. “They are currently in the pipeline so hopefully, we will be in a position to speak about them during the second quarter of this year.”

“In the meantime, IGO USA is working on The Gate in Frisco, Dallas. This is a mega-project with an estimated construction cost close to $1bn,” said Kozbari. The project, which launched last year, is a mixed-use commercial and residential project on an 80-acre site.

Again, there is no dearth of confidence within the IGO stable.

Whether it’s Hussein talking about ground-level construction activities, or Kozbari discussing the finer points of product quality, you soon come to realise that this is a firm with absolute confidence in its abilities.

And why not? IGO is not talking in abstract terms; the firm boasts an impressive track record in the Middle East and beyond.

Kozbari is clearly champing at the bit to impress with both the Polo Townhouses and Polo Residences. Hussein, meanwhile, is working diligently to prove that IGO can walk the walk, or – in this case, gallop the gallop.

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Playing the long game
As infrastructure contractor for the Polo Townhouses, China State Construction Engineering Corp (CSCEC) has a daunting task ahead of it.

Having only started work at the turn of the year, the contractor has until August 2015 to ensure that all of the townhouses’ amenities are in place.

”We’re responsible for all infrastructure, including electrical and water supplies, drainage and irrigation, street lighting, the Etisalat network, and roads and parking spaces,” said the contractor’s construction manager, Eng Ashraf Barham.

“The timeframe is our major obstacle. Our work must be completed before the end of August. However, we can overcome this challenge by increasing manpower and optimising working hours,” he added.

Barham and his colleagues also have a multi-brand fleet of premium construction equipment to assist.

“Volvo, Caterpillar, and JCB – these are the three main brands we like to use,” he explained.

“They offer long-life machines with excellent uptime, and spare parts availability is good. When you purchase a
machine, you need it to serve you for five to six years without any problems.

“If you spend a little more at the beginning, you will save money in the longer term. The retail price is also higher when you opt for premium brands,” Barham concluded.

WASTE, NOT, WANT NOT
As the Polo Townhouses’ main contractor, Technical Architect Contracting must account for structural and operational differences between typical high-rise and low-level construction

“If a contractor isn’t careful, it can lose out with horizontal works for one major reason: extra consumption of resources,” explained Ahmad Al Hiyari, CEO of the UAE-based company.

“It’s not like high-rise construction; this is an open site, and you can deploy double or triple the required resources if you fail to manage your activities. Effective project management skills are vital,” he said.

To this end, the contractor must ensure that it allocates its resources in a suitable manner.

“We tend to subcontract earthmoving applications,” Al Hiyari commented.

“Excavators, graders, rollers – if it doesn’t work across the lifecycle of a project, we outsource it. The day-to-day units – telehandlers, SSLs – are owned by us,” he explained.

Essentially, Al Hiyari and his team are walking a tightrope between making a profit and delivering the project on time and to spec. Even so, the CEO is confident he can pull off this balancing act with the Polo Townhouses.

“Sometimes, we just have to focus harder on meeting our clients’ expectations than on our net profits at the end of the project,” Al Hiyari concluded.

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PROJECT INTEL

Polo Townhouses
• Site: Meydan Gated Community
• Master developer: Meydan Group
• Project developer: IGO Property Development
• Project manager: Invest Group Overseas
• Owner: MAG Group
• Consultant: Archcorp Architectural Engineering
• Main contractor: Technical Architect Contracting
• Infrastructure contractor: China State Construction
• Number of units: 106 G+1 buildings
(106 G+1 Townhouses)
• Site: 326,000m2 (Net Land Area : 332,446 ft2)
• Official completion date: Q1 2016

Polo Residences
• Site: Diamond Business Park
• Project developer: IGO Property Development
• Project manager: Invest Group Overseas
• Owner: MAG Group
• Main contractor: Undecided – three shortlisted
• Infrastructure contractor: Dutco Balfour Beatty
• Number of units: 29 G+4 buildings (873 apartments in total)

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