Construction update: Al Araimi Boulevard mall, Oman
Set to open in the last quarter of this year, the 7ha Al Araimi Boulevard in Muscat will feature the sultanate's largest skylight
The $2bn Westfield London shopping centre in London’s Shepherds Bush has been a stable retail and leisure destination since its launch in 2008. Ten years on, the development remains the largest shopping centre in Europe, complete with a 17-screen cinema and a high-spec fitness club. In terms of the behemoth’s design, the complex boasts one iconic design feature – an undulating glass roof, allowing as much sun and natural light as the UK’s climate can muster to flood the retail space.
It is exactly this design feature that first caught the eye of Shaikh Raid bin Abdullah Al Araimi, vice chairman of Al Raid Group, one of Oman’s best-known real estate developers. Located in the upcoming Al Khoud area of Muscat, Al Araimi Boulevard is set over two floors, spread across 14.72ha, and features the sultanate’s largest glass atrium and largest skylight, measuring 5,190m2.
Set to open in the last quarter of 2018, the near-complete mall will have room for more than 220 retail outlets over a leasable area of 70ha, with 30% of the space committed to entertainment – including virtual reality parks, extreme parks, trampolines, and indoor rides.
“We started construction on the project two years ago,” Al Araimi tells Construction Week.
“The project has different parties involved – the contractor, project manager, the consultants, the interior design (ID) consultant, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) consultants, and subcontractors.
“We have a very strong team working on this project's leasing, marketing and operations, and a retail delivery team to do the coordination with the tenants and complete the fit-outs. The project has been built in one phase over a 24-month period.”
At the moment, 1,650 workers are on site to finish the project – a figure that has varied throughout the construction phase but one that has never dipped below 1,600 at any given point, as Al Araimi points out.
The project's main contractor, Unique Construction and Contracting, deals with all subcontractors involved with the project. While Al Raid Group has the final say over which subcontractors it chooses – based on specification, quality, and price – Unique is the firm that manages all these different moving parts.
Al Araimi explains: “The way that we usually go-ahead with our projects is that we tender the project, with a number of contractors participating. We look at various different variables with their historical record standing at number one. Their record of building huge projects is also very crucial, as well as their core administration and financial position – that is to say, who is solid in the market. These are very important parameters for us.”
Based on these, Al Raid Group then selects the best contractor, looking also at the technical qualifications a firm has, before awarding the contract. In the context of Al Araimi Boulevard, Al Araimi said Unique was eventually awarded the bid as the main contractor given its status as “one of the strongest companies in the country with a lengthy proven history of completing large projects on-time”.
Al Araimi explains that an important aspect of the mall is that its development goes beyond offering simply an indoor retail experience, noting a more general trend across the world towards online shopping: “Retailers have not been doing huge sales from their physical stores as they used to do in the past.
“This has created a drop in actual physical retail sales in many areas across the world. Many people at the same time cannot have a good experience when it comes to entertainment or casual dining unless they go to a shopping centre.
“Oman is a country where people enjoy the outdoors,” he adds. “A lot of malls tend to offer users an indoor experience only. Al Araimi Boulevard is the only shopping mall in Oman that can offer an outdoor experience too.”
With this in mind, however, Al Raid Group is the not the only developer eyeing a larger chunk of Oman’s retail sector. Dubai-headquartered retail development giant Majid Al Futtaim boasts one of the region’s largest portfolios of mall and retail space. In Oman, it is perhaps best known for opening City Centre Muscat in 2001. It was the sultanate’s first retail mall, which now totals 70,484 m2 and attracts 10.2 million visitors annually. When asked about how Al Araimi Boulevard will “compete” with the more established City Centre Muscat, the Al Raid vice chair says mall developers in the sultanate actually “complement each other”.
He adds: “I think we work very closely hand in hand to ensure that we create a very strong customer experience. At Al Raid, we don’t really focus on competition as much as we focus on new markets based on innovation and added value. In my opinion, the retail market in Oman requires more malls to be developed – the international standard for retail space is 20sqft per capita. In Oman, it currently stands at 9-10ft2 per capita. The US alone has 60ft2 per capita, so Oman still has huge potential for new malls to open.”
This growth potential also has an impact on the skillset of those working in the country’s construction industry, particularly when one considers the specialist outfits involved at Al Araimi Boulevard. After all, functions such as lighting, MEP, chilled water, fire safety, and so on all require “specialist technical experts”, as Al Araimi points out.
“What we are doing is offering service and maintenance contracts to companies that have at least a year’s experience,” he explains.
“We then attach one of our teams to these companies so they can gain experience and eventually take over those duties. Even at these high-level specialisms, we want to attach Omanis so they can build their skillset off the back of those that have those skills.
“The construction sector here probably tends to hire a lot of Omani engineers, and is a highly specialised business in terms of fit-outs of bespoke materials. Therefore, I think there is a good role for Omanis to take advantage of such roles in construction looking ahead.”