1. Home
  2. >

Managing The Old Town Island

Managing a six star, mixed-use development in one of the most prestigious areas of Dubai requires a "cool, calm, confident and collected" FM. Becca Wilson catches up with the woman behind the operations, Macro's Sarah Carter.

INTERVIEWS, Facilities Management

Managing a six star, mixed-use development in one of the most prestigious areas of Dubai requires a "cool, calm, confident and collected" FM. Becca Wilson catches up with the woman behind the operations, Macro's Sarah Carter.

The Old Town Island at Downtown Burj Dubai is a 3m ft2 development encompassing commercial, residential and retail units. It is currently going through its transitional handover and is managed by Macro - FM Consultant of the Year at this year's facilities management Middle East Awards.

Macro attends all project meetings held by the developer, Emaar Properties and some 7,000 as built drawings and hundreds of O&M (operation and maintenance) manuals have now been handed over to Macro, to help assist in The Old Town Island operation.


7,000 as built drawings and hundreds of O&M manuals have now been handed over to Macro.

Snagging is taking place and the snags identified demonstrate the intention of Emaar, the project team and Macro to ensure the standard of the finished project will be extremely high, according to Macro's senior facilities manager, Sarah Carter who is in charge of The Old Town Island FM operations.

"When you look at the snag list, for example, the thousands of light fittings there are, it's not really that many snags. We started the snagging process in November 2007 and it was a lot of work to begin with as it's a big project, but we're now in a rhythm," she explains.

Given her age, background and current project, Carter is set to be a key contender in next year's Young FM of the Year Award and previously worked in the UK FM industry for 11 years before moving to Dubai.

But with the FM market in the Middle East contending with other industries and people who are far behind the international standards FM professionals are used to, she is slowly getting to grips with the sector's challenges.

Delivery dilemmas

As an overall project, Carter says the key challenge her and the team currently face is balancing the daily influx of commercial, residential and retail occupants, with those who are still fitting-out and moving in.

With many now using the area as a permanent home or work environment, Carter is working hard to ensure transition is a smooth process. It has taken a while to get there, but team effort and the cooperation offered by Emaar management is the main reason for success.

"In my first three months on this site, I have had some of the most amazing conversations in my entire career. For example, contractors wanting to come on site and carry out work without informing me what the work is that they need to do. Many did not appreciate the need for a method statement but this was readily rectified. As I explained our aim to raise the overall level of work to international standards.

We have had to help the contractors on how to assess their risks and detail their work etc. In some instances, I've had to warn them strongly they may be removed from the site," she explains.

By implementing strict access policies and ensuring contractors have all the right paperwork and are adhering to things like health and safety requirements, Carter can control and manage the site effectively.

"I don't know if we've built a reputation that means you don't come on this site unless you have your paperwork, but the security guards know to check and will ask me if they're unsure of letting people come in, which is great. It's been a hard slog, but international standards are being implemented," she confirms.

Another key area that is different to international practice is the supply chain. Macro sub-contracts the service work and manages the contracts, which include the quality of service delivery.

"Looking at the supply chain, it is a big challenge in Dubai generally to get companies to raise the quality and standard of their work and that of their sub-contractors to international expectations.

Macro are not afraid to change an under performing company and bring in another, if they simply can not deliver the level of quality expected by Macro and Emaar. You're constantly asking yourself if it's worthwhile putting in the time and effort to advise these service providers how to deliver

But with progress to date I firmly believe it is" she says.

Technology tactics

While on the subject of delivery, even though most systems are now implemented and link back to the project's control room than is manned and operated by Macro, Carter is still looking for the right CAFM (computer-aided facilities management) system.


We actively help our contractors assess their risks and detail their work.

"We're trying to find something that suits the development and are looking at the usual suspects like Concept, Maximo and Macro's own system, but it's hard finding something that will accommodate the residential, retail, commercial and common areas. It's quite a big and complex mixed-use project," she explains.

Systems that are in place include smart-home technology in the residential units, a BMS and fire system, among others.

But whatever challenges and obstacles Carter faces, she knows exactly how to deal with them. "Being cool, calm, confident and collected in front of contractors, our partners and senior management is key and that's what helps me deal with the challenges I face."


The 33 freehold offices in The Old Town Island play home to a variety of tenants, from financial institutions to property developers.

Like the rest of The Old Town Island, the offices are currently witnessing transition with some offices fitted out and being used, while others are either empty or going through the fit-out process.

Because some space is already operational, Carter says the main challenge is preventing the on-going work from affecting and distracting those who are already settled in.

"One of the biggest challenges here is that we've got offices open and some being fitted out. So the sooner we can get them fitted out and finished and the fit-out contractors are off site, the better for me as back of house I get a trail of concrete and contractors take a lift out of action at the same time we've got food deliveries coming.

"We won't allow them into the common areas, they've got to use the back of house access, so managing a high end development and keeping it all shiny and clean, while the contractors are in muddy boots, covered in concrete traipsing through, is a challenge," she explains.

Macro manages the common areas of The Old Town Island and gives tenants the option to employ them to maintain their offices.

Each unit is responsible for its own access control, with some companies opting for high-end, technologically advanced systems compared to other companies preferring the traditional lock and key method.

Once a company moves in, as part of Macro's contract arrangement for the management of retail fit-out's, Macro receives a hand over pack that includes the civil defence approved drawings, all the plans, checks that all the licenses and approvals are done, get them trained and then monitor them on site to make sure they are doing everything right.


Souk Al Bahar plays home to numerous retail outlets, ranging from clothing, sports shops and home accessories, to cafes, restaurants and bars.

It has taken 33% of the available space within The Old Town Island and again, is going through the transition period with most of the units now completed.

"The main challenge here is where you've got the floor directly above being residential. So level two and three are retail and then level four is residential.

So at night , you can't do the out of hours working and now we've got outlets like The Meat Co. open that doesn't finish until 1am, the time scale that these guys can work without disturbing the residents of The Old Town Island gets smaller and smaller," explains Carter.

On a case by case basis, we try and talk to them about when they can conduct their work. For example, if you're in Starbucks sitting on the terrace, you don't want to listen to loud maintenance work.

So we will go and see the sort of work they are doing and then decide if it's classed as minor works and low noise, or not. If it is, I'll sign it off and extend their hours. We can't give our contractors free reign to make a sensible decision, we have to do it for them," she adds.


It is a big challenge in Dubai generally to get the supply chain to raise the quality and standard of their work and that of their sub-contractors.

And once the full range of late night restaurants and bars come online, operations will not be far away from 24/7 monitoring.

Carter explains that problems she faced before were again, down to contractors not abiding to the level of standards Macro's client, Emaar, would like to see.

"But when you walk around now, there are not as many H&S issues amongst our contractors, and I don't have to walk around every day now and tell our contractors to keep the door closed if they are working on the interior of some retail space, they now know to just do it," she says.

The focus now shifts to how best to manage the number of workers coming in and out of Souk Al Bahar. "Getting everybody in and out every day is becoming difficult, especially when everyone has to open by 10am and all the staff turns up at the same time, there is no staggered arrival.

"The problem is, the walk from the far North block to the East in unairconditioned car parks or back of house routes, is a long way to walk. But as more places open, we are coming up with new ways to handle these kinds of situations."


Accounting for the majority stake within The Old Town Island, the residential area is 35% of the development.

"The key challenge we have within the residential area, is managing people's expectations. If somebody pays a lot of money to move into a development, they don't want to see that we're snagging the walk ways, for example," explains Carter.

Each unit is fitted with smart-home technology, enabling residents to carry out tasks like, turning their AC onto ‘away' mode to keep the humidity levels.

Residents have access to free gyms, swimming pools, conference space, communal gardens and many of the homes come with a Jacuzzi.

Security is tight, with residents requiring tags and/or codes for access control.

Once the complex is full, Macro will work with it's sub-contractors to assist Emaar in devising environmentally-friendly services. Emaar is an ISO 14001-certified company and a key part of their contract with Macro is for all contractors to comply with ISO 14001 requirements and Emaar's own objectives and programmes.

"We have an environmental working party that is going to be looking at the eco-friendly initiatives. We're doing a lot of stuff, but it's more with the pest control and cleaning companies, for example, controlling the chemicals they use and ensure they are environmentally friendly.

"Once the project is finished and everyone has moved in, we will implement these kinds of initiatives based on Emaar's objectives," she explains.

Most popular


CW Oman Awards 2020: Meet the winners
A round of the thirteen winning names at the Construction Week Oman Awards 2020 that


Leaders UAE 2020: Building a sustainable, 'resilient' infra
AESG’s Phillipa Grant, Burohappold’s Farah Naz, and Samana's Imran Farooq on a sustainable built environment
CW In Focus | Inside the Leaders in KSA Awards 2019 in Riyadh
Meet the winners in all 10 categories and learn more about Vision 2030 in this

Latest Issue

Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020