when it opens doors to the public on February 1, 2007, a top official of the upcoming mall said recently.
City Times caught up with Frederick J. Douglas, General Manager - Leasing at the Mall, who has been brought in all the way from Australia, to oversee the mammoth project by Emaar Properties, that is scheduled to nestle in the shadow of Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower in just over two years from now.
We started out by asking Douglas what the hype of The Dubai Mall was all about, and what it would offer to residents and tourists in Dubai in terms of both a shopping and lifestyle experience? "Where else in the world can you have all these superlatives? The world's largest mall, a record 12.1 million sq ft gross area, 5.6 million sq ft gross leasable area, and 3.7 million sq ft net leasable area, with 1,200 shops - give or take a few! - it will be equivalent to the size of 50 international-class soccer pitches, " said an ebullient Douglas.
He quickly added: "We are the biggest at present, that's not likely to remain a constant, with new ones coming up every day, so we plan to establish ourselves as the world's best by adopting the best practices on the retail and other fronts, that will make us the choice destination of tomorrow." The Dubai Mall when completed is likely to be a lot bigger than the Edmonton Mall in Canada, and the Mall of America in Bloomington, St. Paul, Minnesota, its two closest international counterparts.
Frederick J. Douglas noted that The Dubai Mall did not see its large size as a problem for families and children to navigate, because of its well-planned design element, which packed in a simplicity and ease of access, as well as some differentiating iconic elements, including The Aquarium, the Fountain Oasis, the Carnival Zone, which will have an Olympic Ice Skating Arena with an ice rink that will offer enthusiasts of the sport a great venue for staging ice hockey matches, figure skating events, competitions and a place to simply have fun with the family. Also planned is an IMAX theatre, as part of the proposed cineplex, making it possible to watch breathtaking images up to six stories high, and wrap-around 12,000-watt digital sound. An incredible musical fountain water feature, a series of nightclubs, to enhance the nightlife of the city, are also on the cards. Yet another entertainment option will be Bowling Alleys, the likes of which the Emirates are yet to experience, he averred.
Its iconic features, he said, were part of the integrity of design intent, and the foundations of success for The Dubai Mall, ensuring accessibility, visibility and exposure, and making it easy for people to locate one another, despite its size.
Part of this gargantuan lifestyle experience is the largest gold souk, the largest electronics superstore section, the largest retail sections for children's wear, fashion, furniture, and luxury brands, a food and beverage section that encompasses six hotels, over 70 restaurants, in addition to a host of coffee shops and cafes, surrounding the Aquarium of glass tunnels to wander among sharks and stingrays, allowing visitors a choice to dine or relax and enjoy the fantastic views.
"We are looking at The Dubai Mall becoming part of the local community, and are counting on the local community embracing it as a popular hangout and meeting place, integrating it into their lifestyle. Dubai is the 'Can Do' place of the world, and is targeting 15 million tourists annually by the end of the decade; we are not looking at the Mall in isolation, it will create an entire Downtown area - encompassing Burj Dubai, The Old Town, The Residences - indeed, an entire, vast city within a city is the Treasure of Dubai, even as Burj Dubai reaches for the sky, The Dubai Mall reaches out to the world. We are looking at extending the Mall to cover the entire UAE, the GCC and Middle East, why, the entire world is our oyster," he said, sweepingly about the branding of the Mall.
An artificial lake occupying a total area of 4.3 million sq ft will add to the site's tranquility, while the residential facility of 2.5 million sq ft will also see an additional retail space totalling 1.5 million sq ft.
With an estimated 16,000 car parks, the 'Mall of Malls' is expecting a footfall of 35 million visitors in the first full year of business, and an annualised growth in mall traffic of about 20 to 30 per cent.
"No, we are not overmalled, with Dubai's present influx of tourists and residents, poised to rise astronomically, the density of malls and lifestyle destinations will only bring the world to Dubai, and that augurs well for the city, and the UAE in general," said Douglas perceptively, to a query on whether with over 40 big Malls and an estimated 10 expected to open in the next two years, Dubai had reached Mall saturation.
The leasing of Downtown Dubai commenced in the middle of June this year from the Dubai Mall Leasing Centre, and has already seen just under two million square feet of space allocated, which as Douglas puts it is "not quite half way there yet!"
Emaar's Executive Director - Retail and Leasing, Ibrahim Al Hashimi, had earlier gone on record as saying that this development would transform Dubai from Shopping Capital of the Middle East to Shopping Capital of the World, pointing out that for a city where shopping was akin to a national pastime, The Dubai Mall would become the city's centrepiece. He had pointed out that the Mall would feature an amalgamation of approximately 10 to 15 individual malls or niches, each catering to distinct product categories, and that so far there had been an overwhelming response from international and regional retailers, who wanted to be part of the Mall's unrivalled retail environment. Al Hashimi had noted that tourism was the engine driving Dubai's growth, and that it had a huge potential audience, of some 3.2 billion consumers, armed with a collective GDP of US$18.3 trillion!
Douglas added: " With all these superlatives, we will be in a position to offer the complete range of each international brand retailer, and this is not something any other Mall can boast of, we hope to challenge the retailers to also simultaneously deliver best retail practices in their outlets, such as better training, skills and service."
Himself a retail expert from Down Under, Douglas revealed that several Aussie brands would mark their debut in the Middle East with boutiques at the Mall, as would several brands from the US and the UK. Douglas noted that the ease of access that would be achieved once the bridge connecting Downtown Dubai to the Dubai International Airport was ready, would ensure convenience and greater footfall within The Dubai Mall.
"We started from a green field site, with virtually no buildings or built-in features to cramp our style, and that has helped us decide how and where to design what, definitely an advantage when you go into something this mammoth, we are not merely building a Mall or a Tower, but a whole city, if you look at it," Douglas commented.