DIFC aims to make retail strip go-to destination day and night

Dubai’s financial free zone expects to attract thousands of residents as it revives its retail offerings to make the precinct a round-the-clock destination.

Currently about 5,000 people live in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone across four towers. With the new Central Park building, which comprises 426 apartments, complete, the developers Dubai Properties and Deyaar are handing over the apartments to new residents.

Like other global financial centres, footfall tapers off at DIFC’s retail outlets after office hours. In a bid to reverse that trend and encourage people to stay longer it plans to develop an interconnecting retail “spine” across its buildings that would feature cafes and outdoor spaces with seating areas.

The district has 1,224 companies and 18,000 employees, figures it expects to triple by 2024.

“Malls in Dubai get busy at night and on weekends,” said Brett Schafer, the chief executive of DIFC Properties. “But our retail spine [would be] busy during night and day because we have people living here, and like a downtown, a high traffic area, it would have amenities so that people can remain.”

DIFC has one more residential tower planned with 170 apartments in the next few years besides a few more in the long term, he said. Construction is yet to start on the latest residential building.

“We expect around 50,000 people living here by 2020,” Mr Schafer said. “So the retail spine is important timing-wise, and it would also cater to the residential towers on Sheikh Zayed Road.”

The construction of the strip fell by the wayside during the 2008 financial crisis but picked up as the office spaces and residential buildings started filling up. Designed as a promenade, it has 150 retail outlets lined up. It would start leasing from November, and is expected to be ready by the second quarter of 2017.

A wave of new office and residential development is underway at DIFC as the free zone approaches full occupancy.

Gate Village 11 with 200,000 square feet of new office space is expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2017.

The Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) and Canadian property manager Brookfield are building a $1 billion development in the financial district.

The ICD Brookfield Place, which would have 1.5 sq ft of office space, retail outlets and a hotel, is expected to be ready by the second quarter of 2018.

DIFC office rents are among the highest in Dubai at Dh2,530 per sq metre at the end of the first quarter, according to the property brokers Knight Frank. It is followed by Emaar Square and the Downtown area at Dh1,991 per sq metre.

DIFC is also building its fifth business centre for start-ups and small businesses that is expected to be ready in September. It would have space to host 20 companies.

DIFC also anticipates rising demand for hotel rooms in the centre.

Rosewood Hotel is still a year away, according to Mr Schaffer.

A 100-room Four Seasons is under construction and one more hotel is featured in the current master plan.

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