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Face to face: Abdulla Bin Sulayem, Seven Tides

Abdulla Bin Sulayem outlines Seven Tides’ UAE development activities, including plans to construct and open a 100-villa luxury resort on The World islands in Dubai by Q4 2018

INTERVIEWS, Projects

Anyone who meets Abdulla Bin Sulayem will soon come to realise that he’s not a man of limited ambition. Neither is he easily contented. As chief executive officer of Seven Tides, a UAE-based developer that focusses on luxury property and hospitality projects, he has forged a career by ignoring what others tell him cannot be done.

Take Dukes Dubai as an example. Located on Palm Jumeirah, development of the five-star hotel was put on hold in the wake of the 2008/09 global financial crisis. In 2014, when Seven Tides decided to recommence construction, Bin Sulayem’s team was faced with an additional hurdle.

“When we relaunched the project, we were informed by Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) that the cladding would have to be updated in line with the latest specifications,” he begins. “For the security of both the asset and the hotel guests, we had to change the exterior façade.”

On receiving such news, most developers would likely become preoccupied by implications related to cost and delay, and understandably so. But Bin Sulayem is not ‘most developers’. While he concedes the situation was less than convenient, he soon began to identify potential opportunities. For Seven Tides’ CEO, when one door closes, another opens – conveniently, in this instance, onto a beach-facing balcony.

“If you have a problem, you might as well take advantage of it,” he says. “We knew that [changing the façades] would result in delay and added expenditure, so we thought: Let’s add value to the property. Let’s install balconies. When I first suggested this, everyone thought it was a crazy idea. But in life, you can either work within your boundaries [or you can push them]. Yes, a developer drafts a design in line with its [initial] expectations, but this is not a holy book. You can always modify.”

Following the completion of financial and engineering-related feasibility studies, and on obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals, Bin Sulayem – perhaps unsurprisingly – got his own way. The majority of Dukes Dubai’s rooms and hotel apartments now boast balconies, the suites boast floor-to-ceiling windows, and he says the resort is all the better for it. But make no mistake, bold though his approach may be, Bin Sulayem is by no means reckless. Behind every ambitious venture that he undertakes, there lie countless hours of research, negotiation, and fine-tuning.

“At first, adding balconies to Dukes Dubai sounded complicated,” he recalls. “The hotel’s shell-and-core works were complete, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) activities had begun. Anything added to the exterior would have to be completed within the same timeframe as the interior.

“We requested quotations, and some of the larger contractors gave us ridiculous prices. Ultimately, we enlisted Fix Concrete Technologies, a smaller, specialist contractor that had performed well on some of our previous projects. The firm was able to procure the necessary materials at [a more competitive rate,] and the balconies were completed on time. Nothing was delayed.

“We don’t [undertake such activities] recklessly; we’re very cautious when it comes to safety and cost. But if there is an opportunity to add value, we will take it.”

This is not the first time Seven Tides has greenlit works that were absent from its original plans. Upon identifying an unused terrace atop the spa and treatment rooms of its Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort, for instance, the developer decided to install a Turkish hammam – a venue that has proved popular with hotel guests and local residents alike. Dukes Dubai, meanwhile, is now home to the first Khyber-branded restaurant outside of India, following negotiations with the luxury eatery’s Mumbai-based owners.

“The restaurant was originally designed to take up half a floor, with the other half for apartments. But when we saw the potential of Khyber as a brand, we decided to dedicate the entire floor to the restaurant. We subsequently added the Sky Collection, two additional floors of hotel apartments.”

This brave yet diligent approach is also evident on what is, arguably, Seven Tides’ most ambitious project to date. The firm is in the process of creating a 100-villa resort on The World islands in Dubai, having purchased the 10 plots that comprise the southernmost portion of ‘South America’. And if developing a project of this magnitude on an artificial archipelago that is only accessible by sea is not sufficiently bold for your liking, consider the fact that Bin Sulayem aims to complete main construction works and open the resort to the public by Q4 2018.

“We believe in The World,” he tells Construction Week. “If you know what you’re doing – if you know what you’re building and how you’re going to build it – it will be a game changer.”

With this in mind, Seven Tides has invested considerable time and effort to ensure that its upcoming resort is constructed on time, within budget, and to the highest operational standards.

“The resort will be built on our smallest island, facing Jumeirah,” Bin Sulayem explains. “We haven’t yet started [the main construction works]. We’re in the process of building mock-up units to calculate the exact costs.”

These mock-up units will enable Seven Tides to investigate everything from the best materials and construction practices for the project, to the optimum power-generation methods and overall operating costs. In reference to the types of system that his team is examining, Bin Sulayem says: “The main challenge associated with [building on The World] is the provision of utilities, and a project’s air-conditioning (AC) system is the main consumer of electricity. As such, we must ensure that the resort’s properties are well insulated and feature highly efficient AC units. At the same time, the method of power generation should be [optimised] for the project.”

Unable to employ solar power due to space constraints and the round-the-clock energy requirements associated with hospitality projects, Seven Tides is currently considering the use of highly efficient generators to fuel the resort. In an attempt to minimise electricity consumption, Seven Tides is also investigating the option of installing AC units that do not require compressors – components that account for the majority of a system’s energy use.

Once all tests have been conducted and Bin Sulayem’s team has finalised the resort’s optimum layout, construction works can begin. Seven Tides has already procured the majority of the project’s materials, transported them to the island, and enlisted a main contractor.

“Our target is to commence main construction works in Q4 2017,” Bin Sulayem reveals. “If everything goes well, I think the resort should complete in Q2 2018. When you’re building lots of [similar structures,] everything is like Lego.

“Let’s say that by Q4 2018, it should be open to guests,” he continues. “This will be the first resort of its kind anywhere on The World. The design is beautiful, which is important because if we don’t have a ‘wow’ factor, there’s no point in doing it.”

Commenting on Seven Tides’ future plans for The World, Bin Sulayem adds: “The initial project will take up one of our 10 islands. We have a different concept for the next island, and we plan to [proceed] with the other islands depending on [market demand].”

The construction of a 100-villa resort on The World islands would probably prove sufficiently taxing for most developers but, again, Bin Sulayem is not ‘most developers’. Seven Tides’ wider UAE portfolio includes a three-tower project in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT), which will feature a yet-to-be-launched four-star hotel brand, residential apartments, and a retail space; Al Barsha’s Dubai Heights Academy, a 1,845-capacity British curriculum school constructed in just six months, which will open on 10 September, 2017; and Seven Residences The Palm, a 14-storey, 1,000-unit serviced apartment complex, which will be developed on a plot of land between Dukes Dubai and The Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort.

Seven Tides also plans to showcase a selection of its projects at Cityscape Global 2017, which will take place at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) from 11-13 September. During the course of the exhibition, Bin Sulayem says his team will focus on Dukes Dubai, which has just 10 hotel apartments still for sale; and Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort’s hotel apartments, 76% of which have already been sold.

Yet despite its busy pipeline, Bin Sulayem says that each of Seven Tides’ projects will continue to boast at least one element that sets it apart from the competition.

“You need to add character to your developments,” he concludes. “Just building a property on Palm Jumeirah – or anywhere else, for that matter – is not enough. Competition is hot. At Seven Tides, we always look to add value; to build projects that are unique.”

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