Above the crowd: Gagan Suri, Bahrain Bay
Launched in July 2006, the $2.5bn Bahrain Bay, located on reclaimed land covering an area of 1.45 million sqm, started taking shape to become a noticeable reality. And its chief executive, Gagan Suri, confirms that the 10-year project is still moving ahead at the same pace. Bahrain Bay Development (BBD) is a fully master-planned project offering high-quality residential, commercial, and retail components.
The development is constructed on two reclaimed lands on the North shore of Bahrain and is connected to the rest of the Kingdom by the North Manama Causeway. The project’s construction phase began in 2007 with the start of reclamation works, followed by infrastructure (roads and utilities) contracts, most of which was completed between 2008 and 2011.
Suri says: “Bahrain Bay is like a mini city; a liveable and sustainable long-term development. The location of the development is what sets us apart from our competitors; we are in the heart of the city. It is extremely well connected from all the sides and what is planned for the future also puts us in a very strategic location. On one side, we have Seef and on the other side, we have Manama. It is built within the driving distance from the airport. What many people are not aware is that there is a greater plan to build a second Saudi causeway, for which our land has the infrastructure.”
Work in progress
Suri mentions that the development is currently in its 10th year, which has seen the completion of four projects, including Arcapita headquarters, Four Seasons Hotel, Al Baraka Bank headquarters, and the United Tower incorporating the Wyndham hotel, set to open soon. In addition to that, Suri says that the masterplan has WaterBay – a three residential building project, being developed by Bin Faqeeh.
He adds: “The WaterBay project is not behind schedule. Initially, it was promised that the three towers will be delivered in phases, but now the strategy has changed. All the three towers will be delivered at the same time. The towers are pretty much at the same level of construction and targeting 2018 completion.”
Some of the other projects include the AXA Insurance Gulf regional head office, the piling works for which is already finished and they are about to start construction soon; India-based Ajmera Mayfair Realty Group will be developing a residential tower project; Kuwait’s Wafrah Real Estate Group will start its work on the Bahrain Breeze; and last but not least, two as of yet unnamed towers containing slightly smaller apartments being developed by members of the local Kooheji business family.
Suri adds: “The development has been around for 10 years. It started off in the peak of the market and successfully sold 65% of the plots. Over the time, slowly absorption happened, and now today, we don’t have a single plot left to be sold. The economic cycle over the 10-year period has definitely been turbulent. Markets all over the world fell, while the GCC took a big hit. As a master developer, we have a long-term vision for the project, and onsidering the scale of the development, it is absolutely ok for us if the development takes time to reach a certain level.”
Early this year, the development saw the opening of the Promenade, a waterfront walkway inspired by locations such as Sydney in Australia and Vancouver in Canada. The Promenade opening coincided with the launch of the 10-day Bahrain Food Festival at Bahrain Bay. Organised by the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), the culinary exhibition reflected the multicultural dining environment of Bahrain. Connected by a pedestrian bridge over an intersecting canal, the promenade stretches in a semi-circle across the Four Seasons Hotel and includes kiosks by known food and beverage (F&B) brands such as Wafflemeister, Naseef, Craves, and Bites Corner Café.
Also in addition to that, in October this year, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, inaugurated the first The Avenues mall in Bahrain. The first phase of the project, including the Grand Avenue and the Harbour, boasts 130 retail stores, and a leasing space of around 40,000sqm, half of which is devoted to restaurants and cafes overlooking Bahrain Bay. The work on the Phase 1 was completed at an investment of BHD60mn within two years.
The implementation of the Phase 2 of the project will start within the next few months and is likely to be completed in 2020. In this phase, the west side of the project will be completed and an additional leasing space of 30,000sqm will be added. The scope of work includes construction of the 210-room Hilton Bahrain Bay Hotel and Residences and also residences with direct access to the mall.
Suri states: “We are very proud of the developments that took place in the last two years and we look forward to the upcoming two to three years as well. It also sets us to think about enhancing public realm like parks, restaurants, coffee shops etc. within the masterplan. For the past couple of years, people had this image of Bahrain Bay being a very exclusive development and different from rest of the city. But with the opening of the few kiosks last year, we opened up the channels of bringing people into Bahrain Bay.
“We have partnered with the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Culture and brought in lots of interesting events. Over half a million people came to Bahrain Bay in the last 12 months. We hosted some of the most successful events like the food festival on the promenade. We have changed and increased the profile of the development completely.”
He continues: “We are planning to do festivals once again this year. We sponsored the Cancer Walk and the Light Festival in November. The idea is to create unique events which encourage people to get out and enjoy the weather. Bahrain Bay is not predominantly a tourist attraction, but what it does is that it gives mass and momentum for people to come here and bring along others as well.”
Despite the regional economic challenges, Suri believes that they have been quite fortunate to have good shareholders and are well capitalised. “We have never borrowed a single Dinar; we are proud to be a completely debt-free company. From the beginning itself, the project was well capitalised and well managed. When the economy shrunk, we cut back on few areas, but we managed well. and so far, we have had no issues.”
The idea behind maintaining the steady success with the third-party developers, according to Suri, lies in being co-operative and open minded. “We remain flexible and open to ideas. Within the masterplan, whatever we can do to support the developers, we do that. We are very accommodative as long as it is not affecting our masterplan and adding any extra gross floor area (GFA) to the existing plan. We work with every single developer at different levels; just a little help will encourage them to develop immediately.”
Suri mentions that there are plans for Bahrain Bay 2. “The blueprint is already on paper. I believe we needed some revalidation and had to revisit it entirely. We will begin the masterplan for Bahrain Bay 2 once we have reached a critical mass stage in Bahrain Bay 1. It has to be something very unique.”
For large-scale masterplans, Suri says that the trends don’t come in and out that quickly. He concludes: “For masterplans like us, there are long-term trends. We should think about long-term sustainability. I think residential will still continue to be in demand. There will also be a huge demand for healthcare and schools as well.”