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UP motors forward expansion plans with its green eye open

The conquest of the wider region has been a recent trend among local developers. Simon Azzam, CEO, Union Properties, talks to Angela Giuffrida about the company's plans to expand the Motor City brand and the need for a sustainable future to be taken seriously.

Azzam believes that understanding the market and choosing the right partner in a country is strategically more important than labour or cost issues.
Azzam believes that understanding the market and choosing the right partner in a country is strategically more important than labour or cost issues.

The conquest of the wider region has been a recent trend among local developers. Simon Azzam, CEO, Union Properties, talks to Angela Giuffrida about the company's plans to expand the Motor City brand and the need for a sustainable future to be taken seriously.

Over the last year or so there has been a noticeable trend among UAE developers to enter overseas markets. Does Union Properties have any plans to do the same?

Our intention is to export our brands globally. We recently signed a deal with Formula One Administration for the exclusive rights to develop Formula One theme parks worldwide. We are developing the first one at Motor City in Dubailand, and then plan to take this brand outside of the region. For the time being, the projects will be theme-based and won't include a residential element.

We're also looking into exporting Motor City as a brand. And we've had interest from some countries that are keen to redevelop their racetracks into a Motor City-style project. Our Green Community development, along with Uptown Mirdif, have also become brands. So at the moment, our business focus is developing real estate brands.

So which overseas markets are you looking to enter?

At the moment, we don't have anything that we can specify in terms of which country we're going to enter. But in terms of our residential projects, our immediate market is the UAE and the region. For our brands such as Motor City, it will be worldwide.

When it comes to developing theme parks outside of the region, have you thought about how you might overcome the challenge of sourcing the right labour and the potentially higher building costs involved?

That's the simplest thing. If you don't account for these things at the beginning then you shouldn't even think about venturing overseas.

We understand the business very well, so when we do consider developing abroad, we know that we have to carry out feasibility studies before saying ‘yes' or ‘no'. The biggest concerns are things such as: which country do you go to? Do you have the right partner in that country? And is this the right product for that particular country? These are the strategic things that you need to worry about much more than things such as cost and labour.

What's your take on sustainable building?

I think that people should really look at this issue very carefully, because it's the way of the future.

Should the onus be on the government, developer or contractor to achieve this?

I think it has to start from the developer, because ultimately they're behind the developments, and so need to be pushing for sustainable design and construction.

Of course, market regulations will help move things forward even more - so the more regulations we have, such as the ones being introduced in certain countries regarding emissions, the more developers, contractors and suppliers will be pushed into riding on that train and making sure they're all working towards the same vision.

Do you have any other major projects planned for the UAE?

At the moment, all the projects that we have are under construction - such as Motor City, and Index Tower and Limestone House at Dubai International Financial Centre.

How do you see real estate development progressing in the region?

I think there's still plenty of room for growth. The market's still young and still requires a lot to build it up even more. I see it growing for at least another 10 years.

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