Site visit: Dragon City Bahrain

Bahrain's Chinese-themed shopping mall development Dragon City aims to bring a unique wholesale and retail experience to the Gulf state

ANALYSIS, Site Visits, Projects, Bahrain, Chinese-themed shopping mall, Dragon City

Think of the Chinese-themed Dragon Mart development in Dubai and you’ll get a fairly accurate idea of what Bahrain’s Dragon City mall is all about. The latter is modelled on the former, and even the operator of both is the same – Chinamex.

The project itself has been brought to life by one of Bahrain’s leading urban developers, Diyar Al Muharraq. Located next to Bahrain International Airport’s expansion zone and close to Hidd Industrial Area and Prince Khalifa Port, Dragon City is built on 115,000m² of land, with 55,000m² of retail and wholesale areas selling Chinese goods and services.

However, it is not being built in isolation. It is actually part of Diyar Al Muharraq, a 12km² masterplanned city offering a range of housing and lifestyle units. Situated on the northern shores of Muharraq, its amenities include over 40km of waterfront, together with beaches and community, retail, hospitality and leisure facilities.

Paul Gill, chief development officer at Diyar Al Muharraq, said Dragon City is one of the trigger projects of the masterplanned development and aims to attract foreign investments that serve the national economy and create job opportunities.

“This is our first commercial job. We have a 10 year, 85% offtake agreement with the operator on this, so it’s guaranteed income for us. And that’s great because it’s attractive to other investors to come in and buy shares in the Dragon City Company – because it has a stabilised yield of about 11%. I think it has an equity IRR (internal rate of return) of about 15%, so it’s very attractive,” added Gill.

The Dragon City concept was launched in May 2012 as a result of an agreement between Diyar Al Muharraq and Chinamex. Gulf House Engineering (GHE) was appointed to carry out design and supervision, Nass Contracting the construction programme, Baker, Wilkins & Smith Middle East (BWS) cost consultancy services and Cluttons was appointed as leasing agent. Aecom was appointed after the project had started to handle construction management/client liaison.

Work began in May 2014 and Terry Carroll, senior project director at Aecom, said that by the time the firm was engaged two months later, it was easy getting up to speed as the project had not progressed beyond site enabling works.

“During that phase, there was a lot of stuff that happened off-site – the pre-ordering, the programming – so it was very easy to jump into,” said Carroll.

On the critical path at the outset was the delivery of the pre-engineered building (PEB) from the UAE.

“One of the issues was getting the slabs and the foundations ready for that. The timing needed to be done correctly,” said Carroll. “What we were potentially concerned about was if there was a late delivery on that.”

Foundations of both the mall and the Asian Dining Street (a two-storey area earmarked for Asian-themed restaurants) were laid in September last year, equating to 20% of the total construction, while the PEB took about eight weeks to erect.

“While it appeared that nothing was happening outside for a couple of months, it was all happening back in the UAE,” said Carroll. “By outsourcing the PEB, getting it manufactured off-site, it was actually easier to manage the quality control and the erection was quicker.”

The PEB is a one-storey structure with a two-storey warehouse at one end of it. Carroll said its roof was another key aspect of the project. Like the main frame, it was manufactured off-site. One of the challenges was actually confirming the colours of the roof decking to make sure it was as close an interpretation of ‘Chinese red’ as possible.

“The roof is a composite sandwich panel. There’s insulation foam in the middle and then a sheet of aluminium underneath. What we needed to do as part of the interior design was select the colour of it because the underside comes as a standard white,” said Carroll. “The red we’re looking at now was a suggestion from Shanghai Design Institute on what a Chinese red is.”

The roof is now complete but wasn’t without its challenges.

“Due to the exposed coastal location, strong winds had slowed progress for a short period. The major challenge was to manage the health and safety because of high and windy conditions,” said Carroll.

Skylights are to be dropped into the area where the main food court will be located.

“The skylights are being done off-site. They’ll arrive end of March as a framed unit which will drop in,” said Carroll.

A combination of lighting has been selected for the mall including LED in the corridors, based on “achieving a sustainable solution to achieve the right lux levels and ambience in specific areas,” said Carroll.

A mixture of porcelain tiles “which provide durable and economic solution” were selected for the flooring, which is currently being laid.

“That needs to be done quickly now the roof is up because the partitioning for the shops goes on top of the tiles,” said Carroll.

Construction work is also taking place at Asian Dining Street, but, unlike the mall, the units are only being completed to shell and core.

“From an MEP perspective, it’s independent from the main mall. It will have its own HVAC – so there’s an allocation on the roof for the tenants’ own stuff,” said Carroll.

The area is around 60% complete, with the roof and concrete slab work finished, while decorative glazed clay Chinese tiles are now being installed.

Diyar is finalising recommendations for the landscape and cost consultant to develop the Plaza area, located at the side of the Asian Dining Street and facing the mall.

“The idea is we can use this as break-out space. We can use this for events, for festivals, etc,” said Carroll.
The mall’s chillers have arrived and are being positioned, while transformers and HVAC are due at the end of
the month.

“Testing and commissioning by zones will begin in April,” said Carroll.

Gill insists that the primary infrastructure for Dragon City will be in place by the time construction ends in late June. The mall is set to open three months later in September.

“We’re doing the primary infrastructure for the whole Diyar Al Muharraq development. That’s something like a BHD200m-plus ($530m-plus) roll-out over the next 10 years on its own – and we’ll have something for Dragon City by the opening date in September,” said Gill. “The main challenge is bringing in the roads in here, but that’s reasonable in the time period we have got.”

“To accord with traffic design, anyway, there’s sufficient road and infrastructure to get this up and running with traffic and vehicles to and from it, and deliveries and stuff,” he added.

Carroll said he expects the project to peak in the next few months when fit-out of shop units will be in full swing. The work will be managed by Chinamex in coordination with Nass.

“It’s not hell for leather, there’s a structure. It’s very clear on what tenants can and can’t build,” said Carroll. “A tenant manual and lease out drawings for each shop have been produced which provide guidelines for the shop tenants during fit-out. In addition, both the mall operator and the contractor have dedicated tenant co-ordinators to oversee the work.”

Around 650 labourers are currently on site focused on the remaining civil works related to the erection of the site boundary, and hardscaping works, including the car park, Asian Dining Street and Plaza area. Structural work involving the completion of the warehouse area and closing up the outer walls is also being finished.

Being built next to Dragon City are 350 residential apartments from third party developer Bin Faqeeh Real Estate Development Company, which Gill said could be used as staff accommodation.

“They’ve got to get these finished by the opening,” he added. Dr. Maher Al Shaer, CEO of Diyar Al Muharraq, commented on the Dragon City progress so far.

“With the work nearing completion, we are in eager anticipation to officially introduce to the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain the many facilities and amenities that Dragon City will have to offer,” he said.

“Dragon City is a hugely significant part of the Diyar Al Muharraq project and aims to hold the same position in the Kingdom of Bahrain as a whole as well, contributing in substantial degrees to the tourism and trade sectors and thereby, to the economy of the Kingdom.”

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