Few images are more iconic in representing Dubai than the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island, which resembles a palm tree  when viewed from above. Created by Dubai government-owned master developer Nakheel, the archipelago extending into the Persian Gulf is home to numerous hotels, resorts and high-end retail and dining venues.

Nakheel attended property conference Mipim 2017 in Cannes, France in March, where it targeted international investors with real estate opportunities worth $1.6bn. The developer showcased a range of land plots across Dubai for commercial, residential and hotel development as well as completed built-form residential units offering yields of up to 9% annually. Nakheel chief executive Sanjay Manchanda spoke to fDi about the vision behind his company’s developments and the upcoming projects in his portfolio.

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“The reason behind the establishment of this company was to realise the vision for Dubai’s real estate,” says Mr Manchanda. “The idea was to take Dubai and increase its footprint in terms of sun and sand by creating more beach areas and adding to the coastline.”

Islands and super-malls

Nakheel is currently working on its Deira Islands project, which comprises four reclaimed islands. “We are working on two of the islands called ‘Island A’ and ‘Island B.’ We are spearheading the anchor investments and bringing in new concepts,” says Mr Manchanda. The first of these new concepts is a night market, stretching along 2km of waterfront area and accommodating 5300 units, including several food and beverage vendors, which will operate until midnight.

The second is called The Boulevard, Mr Manchanda says. “The Boulevard’s centrepiece is a mall, which is about 38,000 sq m of leasable area, and in and around it are 16 buildings. Those will be residential and service apartments, hotels, mixed suites, and there is also an emphasis on hospitality.”

Since 2016 Nakheel has signed two joint ventures for beach resorts, representing its first international joint ventures and its continued expansion into hospitality: one with Spain’s RUI Hotels & Resorts and another with Thai hotel group Centara, both for waterfront properties that will include water parks. The projects are priced at $245m and $136m, respectively.

“The emphasis is to create a destination to bring forth the Vision 2020 and 2021,” Mr Manchanda says, referencing both the Dubai Plan 2021 to enhance the emirate’s development, innovation and community experience as well as Dubai’s Tourism Vision 2020, which aims to attract 20 million visitors per year by 2020. “We will, given the mandate, promote, grow and support the real estate in Dubai.”

Drowned world

Working in such ambitious territory has its share of challenges, however. Nakheel’s ‘The World’ islands, an artificial 300-island archipelago designed to resemble a map of the globe, appear to be literally sinking as its islands face weathering and sand erosion. Its construction, started in 2003, was halted during the 2008 financial crisis and as of 2016 only nine islands have been completed. Though 60% were purchased by investors by 2008, to this day, nearly all remain untouched. A spokesperson insists that Nakheel sold "100%" of the islands that were launched for sale, and "held onto" the rest.  

Nakheel has several other developments, including the Jumeirah Islands, Discovery Gardens, Al Furjan and Dragon City. The latter houses Dragon Mart, the largest Chinese business mart outside of China, and has been doubled in capacity to include a hotel, food court and cinema, “giving it more mixed use for the community in the neighbourhood”, says Mr Manchanda.

Nakheel’s properties currently cover more than 15,000 hectares and provide homes for more than 270,000 people, with another 21,000 residential units in the pipeline. The company’s current and future retail project portfolio covers more than 1.3 million sq m of leasable space.  

Mr Manchanda stresses the technological and environmental aspects of the company’s developments. “The Palm Jumeirah is one of the biggest examples of the use of technology as well as dedication to protecting the surrounding marine life. The project has an element of sustainability around it, and we will continue to embrace new technology as it advances,” he says.

“Whether it is in green energy, conservation, water, all of these things are starting to be a feature of our products. The very fact that we operate in that space of creating waterfront living through reclamation is quite unique and sets us apart from others.”