The expansion of Manar Mall, the biggest shopping centre in Ras Al Khaimah, is under way to double its size. Al Hamra Real Estate Development, a subsidiary of Al Hamra Group, is developing the project to complement the ambitions of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), which aims to attract one million tourists to the country’s northern emirate next year.
Manar Mall’s $98m (AED360m) expansion is set for completion in December 2018, and will see the shopping centre’s gross leasable area increased from 27,000m² to 55,000m². While the increased facility will have room for more than 80 new retail outlets, the expansion programme covers more than just the retail sections of the mall. Construction work planned for the project includes the construction of a G+2 and a G+3 carpark; a family entertainment centre that will feature the Middle East and North Africa’s tallest indoor drop tower; a food court; and a promenade looking out on one of the largest natural mangroves in Ras Al Khaimah. Reclamation work has already been completed to add 15m of space to the waterfront mall, creating a 450m-long landscaped promenade featuring a selection of food and beverage outlets, dancing fountains, and entertainment options. The project will cover 20ha once it is fully completed.
Barry Ebrahimy, head of commercial at Al Hamra Group, says conceptual design work for the expansion started in March 2014, a year before construction kicked into gear on 17 March, 2015. Ebrahimy explains that “one of the challenges” with the mall’s expansion is that its design must be seamless: “You do not want to create a difference experience between the existing mall and the expanded [component].”
The developer has been able to create the desired seamless transition from old to new by retrofitting swathes of the facility: marble flooring, a canopy, and light and airy ceiling work have been added to the existing component to ensure that it blends in with the sleek white aesthetics of the newly-built sections of Manar Mall.
As any asset manager knows, an expansion job is a commercial challenge – perhaps not always due to the cost or technical complexity of the development, but certainly because all construction work needs to progress along a tight deadline, with minimal disruption for retailers and shoppers alike.
“You don’t want to shut down shops while they are operating, and you want to ensure there is minimum disruption, whilst also completing the work on time,” Ebrahimy explains.
“You don’t want drilling and hammering going on whilst shoppers are enjoying their time in the mall – they expect a certain ambiance and don’t want to be disturbed by construction noise.”
Al Hamra Real Estate Development was able to overcome this challenge through a means of crafty endeavours – for instance, construction scaffolding was covered by temporary wooden boards and painted white to blend in with the interior of the existing mall. This allowed the main contractor, Sun Engineering and Contracting – as well as its subcontractors – to complete a range of works on Manar Mall’s ceiling without disturbing shoppers. Noisy work, such as drilling, and all other construction activities that could disrupt the typical shopping experience were scheduled for the night.
In fact, a lot of construction work for the project has been completed outside the mall’s operating hours. Tools and equipment would be stored away before the mall would reopen for customers.
Ebrahimy says the expansion project was initiated due to rising demand from shoppers and retailers in Ras Al Khaimah.
“Manar Mall was the first international-style shopping centre that opened in the emirate, and it became the go-to-destination for shopping and for retail groups wanting to expand their footprint by entering Ras Al Khaimah,” he says.
“When we decided to expand the mall, it was already nearly 100% full, and there was a lot of demand coming in from retailers for more space.”
While Manar Mall is being doubled in size, it will remain a two-storey structure, stretching outwards across the vast land bank owned by Al Hamra Group rather than rising upwards. This is because retailers want to be on the ground floor, stating that it’s where the most sales are made. It appears to have been an astute decision – Ebrahimy says 82% of the mall’s new gross leasable space has already been agreed. More negotiations and agreements are being made by Al Hamra Real Estate Development, with retailers looking to set up shop in Manar Mall before the expansion opens. With these numbers considered, up to 96% of the expanded mall will already have been leased when the project is complete.
One might expect an expansion project to deter customers from visiting a facility due to the inconvenience that construction is assumed to cause, but the opposite is true for Manar Mall, Ebrahimy says: “Our footfall did not go down as one might expect. Actually, it marginally increased during construction.
“It’s hard to describe, but there is a ‘love’ factor about Manar Mall in Ras Al Khaimah. It was the first mall here, and it has always been where people get together. People have an attachment to it.
“But while our footfall increased, we definitely faced many challenges, such as with parking, traffic flow, and foot traffic inside the mall.”
Despite all these challenges, the expansion will be ready in time for a grand opening this December. Some of the exterior work on the mangrove-facing side of Manar Mall will still be implemented after the 2018 launch. Additionally, a subsoil drainage system will be built to carry rainwater back to the sea.
Anil Nair, deputy manager and quantity surveyor at Al Hamra Real Estate Development, says this component will be completed by March 2019. Nair reveals that plans are also moving ahead to construct a secant piling wall 12m deep and 600m in diameter to mitigate the effects of water seepage, and the uplift of the expanded project. Building the secant piling wall will protect the entire area, and once it is fully built, landscaping work will begin for the 450m-long promenade that overlooks the mangrove, which is home to a variety of wildlife.
Infrastructural works for the two fountains that will be positioned on either side of a centrally-located jetty will be carried out in the months to come. Next to the jetty by the water’s edge are two partially-submerged amphibian control rooms, which operators will use to manage the water fountains.
These rooms are approximately 3m tall, but they only just protrude over the top of the ground, with 2.25m of the structure submerged. Vision panels will be installed for the buildings to ensure that operators can have a clear view of the fountains from the control rooms upon their operational commencement.
There is another aspect to the development that Al Hamra describes as a completely separate project – the developer has agreed to build a 250-room Rove Manar Mall hotel in the vicinity. Rove is a joint venture of Emaar Properties and Meraas Holding, and the architectural design contract for the hotel was awarded to Dubai-based design studio VX. Construction work on the project could begin this year as the team eyes 2020 for its completion deadline.
With so many complex moving parts in the expansion of Manar Mall – in conjunction to the future construction of the Rove Manar Mall hotel – Al Hamra’s hospitality portfolio is set to expand, and there is a lot for the business to manage. But fuelled by Ras Al Khaimah’s growth in tourism, Al Hamra’s expansion of Manar Mall will certainly help the emirate attract one million tourists by 2019.