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Face to face: Gagan Suri, Bahrain Bay

Bahrain Bay’s chief executive officer, Gagan Suri, reveals how construction of the kingdom’s $2.5bn, 43ha island community is progressing

INTERVIEWS, Projects

Irrespective of where in the world it was located, the development of Bahrain Bay would represent a gargantuan undertaking.

The fact that this $2.5bn (BHD950m), 43ha master-planned community is being built on reclaimed land within the Gulf’s smallest country only serves to make it more impressive.

Even so, it’s been far from plain sailing for this island mega-development. Reclamation works commenced in 2006, and sales got off to a flying start; approximately 65% of Bahrain Bay’s plots were sold during the reclamation period. The following decade, however, brought with it a series of economic challenges that have served to hamper the pace of development.

Gagan Suri, chief executive officer of Bahrain Bay, begins: “Ideally speaking, if the GCC markets had held up, if the world markets had held up, and if the collapse had not happened, Bahrain Bay – as of today – would have been close to completion. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. We had the credit crisis, then we had the GCC crisis, then we had oil issues, and there were additional challenges. All of these factors contributed to where we are today.”

So where is Bahrain Bay today? Well, as Suri explains, while development may not have progressed as rapidly as was envisaged at the outset, 2017 has been an extremely productive year for the community.

“At present, approximately 18% of Bahrain Bay is complete,” he continues. “An additional 10% is currently being developed by Bin Faqeeh, so that puts us close to 30% [either complete or under construction].

“AXA Insurance is in the process of building its regional headquarters,” Suri adds. “NSCC was appointed as the enabling works contractor for this project, and commenced work on its package in Q2 2017.  In addition, Wafra Real Estate, Ajmera Realty & Infra, and Nama International Real Estate all plan to begin work on their developments in Q1 2018.”

While Suri’s 18% figure may sound somewhat underwhelming at first, it belies the extent of construction activities that have completed to date, not to mention the magnitudes of the developments that populate Bahrain Bay’s cityscape.

For example, Bahrain Bay’s district cooling and sewage-treatment plants, which are located on the same plot, were completed during the initial phase of the development process, as was the rest of the locality’s infrastructure. Both facilities – the capacities of which exceed current requirements so as to allow for the community’s future expansion – are operated by France-headquartered Veolia.

The reclaimed island is already home to Arcapita – Bahrain Bay, which completed in 2010; Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, which completed in 2015; and a host of other projects, such as Al Baraka Bank’s ABG Tower and The Avenues – Bahrain, Phase 1 of which completed earlier this year (see box-out). Moreover, CIH Tower, which incorporates the Wyndham Grand Manama hotel, is scheduled to officially open its doors to the public on 30 November, 2017.

Encouragingly, the locality remains a hive of construction activity, with myriad projects climbing higher by the day.

Bin Faqeeh’s Water Bay, for instance, is a three-tower luxury residential project with a shared podium, ground-level retail, and common parking. Its parking levels and podium levels are now complete, and its towers are under construction. Buildings one, two, and three have reached their sixth, fourth, and second floors, respectively.

Commenting on Water Bay’s estimated completion date of Q1 2019, Suri notes: “Assuming this deadline is hit, it will take us to our 30% target of vertical development.”

With three other residential projects due to commence development in Q1 2018, progress at Bahrain Bay shows no signs of abating. India-based Ajmera Realty & Infra’s building will comprise mid- to upper-end homes, which will be sold. Kuwait-headquartered Nama International Real Estate, meanwhile, intends to develop a variety of residential units on its Bahrain Bay plot, some of which will be sold and some of which will be retained.

Suri explains: “[The company’s] business model is to keep a few units as long-term revenue generators. Others, it sells. But interestingly, [Nama’s] units are sold with the option of retaining the firm as an asset manager. It will actually rent out your unit for you, and manage it for a small fee.”

The third residential project scheduled to commence construction in 2018 is Bahrain Breeze, a building that will be developed by Wafra Real Estate with investment from a quasi-pension fund from Kuwait.

“Wafra’s Bahrain Breeze has an absolutely stunning design,” Suri comments, noting that the project looks set to represent an offering that is unique to Bahrain Bay.

Despite Bahrain Bay’s raft of ongoing and upcoming third-party developments, Suri is keen to point out that he and his colleagues are also working to add value to the wider community. To this end, his team intends to develop a 20,000m2 public area, which will include parks, promenades, and retail and food and beverage (F&B) outlets. This area will comprise two portions: The Park at the Bay, and The Wharf at the Bay. The concept designs for the public areas were created by Benoy, and both segments are scheduled to complete in Q4 2018. Suri elaborates: “We took our time; we took nine months to come up with the concepts. The design of Bahrain Bay’s public space was inspired by the best elements of a variety of international localities, including Vancouver, San Francisco, and Dubai.

“Work on The Park at the Bay and The Wharf at The Bay is due to commence by Q1 2018. Both portions are scheduled to complete in Q4 2018, at approximately the same time as Bin Faqeeh’s Water Bay project,” he reveals.

To supplement Bahrain Bay’s construction-related progress, Suri’s team has also been taking steps to “rebrand” the community, promoting it as not only a residential development, but also as a place to work, visit, and have fun. He and his colleagues have been working in tandem with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, and the Authority for Culture and Antiquities, in a bid to achieve this goal.

“During the past 12 months, Bahrain Bay has welcomed more than 500,000 visitors through a diverse variety of events,” he reveals, adding that his company has also enlisted several local and regional artists to create bespoke artworks for the community.

While the hurdles that Bahrain Bay has had to overcome during the past 11 years have been significant, few would deny that things appear to be looking up for the master-planned community. Once complete, the projects of Bin Faqeeh, Ajmera Realty & Infra, Nama International Real Estate, and Wafra Real Estate will take the megaproject close to the halfway mark, according to Suri.

Of course, when it comes to this particular project, there is one question on everyone’s lips: how long is it likely to take for all development activities within Bahrain Bay to complete? Suri’s measured response strikes a cautiously optimistic tone.

“I would say that, given the number of plots still left undeveloped, we’re looking at between 10 and 12 more years,” he tells Construction Week. “Bahrain Bay is a [huge] project; there’s a heck of a lot of inventory. Given that [regional economies are] slowing down, it’s not going to happen [overnight]. It will happen, but over a total period of approximately 20 years.”

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