Industrial, residential, and cultural aspects are combined in the profile of Sharjah. The emirate ranks third in terms of housing demand, size, and population in the UAE. Industry is a development focus where the emirate claims to generate 40% of the country’s industrial GDP in its manufacturing establishments and 19 industrial zones.
The latest major industrial zone projects in the emirate are the Emirates Industrial City (EIC) and the Sharjah Investment Center (SIC). EIC is owned by UAE and Saudi developers through a holding company. The project’s size is 7.7 million square meters; it caters to small and medium enterprises, with a strong space allocation to logistics and warehousing. SIC is a mixed use industrial, commercial, and business zone of 2.9 million square meters that is being developed by SNASCO, a Saudi-owned real estate firm.
In 2006, Sharjah was ranked in second place for the number of industrial establishments in the UAE after Dubai, with a share of 29% among the country’s close to 3,600 registered industrial enterprises. However, in terms of cumulative value of industrial investments it was a distant third place after Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The industrial infrastructure of Sharjah includes its airport and three commercial ports, with leading free zones being Hamriyah Free Zone and Port and SAIF at the airport.
The residential sector in Sharjah faces high demand from people working in Dubai who seek affordable living in the northern emirate. The emirate’s leasehold ownership options and local market conditions have supported diverse building activities and residential towers. Residential projects with noteworthy profile include the Sharjah and ABBCO towers by UAE real estate firm Bonyan International, or the Taawun 2 and Sondos towers by Tiger Real Estate.
For its tourism and resort sector, the emirate’s largest project is the $4.9 billion (AED17.9 billion) Nujoom Islands development, comprising 10 islands with residential, commercial, and resort facilities. Other facets of the tourism development include emphasis on doubling the emirate’s number of hotel rooms to 10,000 by 2010, attracting cultural visitors and increasing the conference and events side of business travel to Sharjah.
With all ongoing developments and relative to its size and economic weight, Sharjah is underreported in international and regional media. The emirate maintains a conservative value approach and cultural emphasis. It has 2,600 square kilometers of land surface, including areas on the Gulf and the Indian Ocean coasts; its population was reported at 725,000 in the last census. The ruler of Sharjah is Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi.
The government of Ajman is overseeing an expansive residential real estate boom that started with the passing of freehold property legislation in 2004, opening the market to foreigner ownership. The smallest of the emirates is benefiting from the sky-high prices of real estate in Dubai and throughout the country and can draw soon-to-be residents and investors with prices as low as AED 350 ($95) per square foot. There are over 200 residential towers in the works.
It’s impossible to gauge exactly how much has been spent on developing real estate in Ajman. The government acts as lead financer for most of the projects and does not disclose the costs.
The emirate is positioning itself through building a new urban center and by aiming to be more than a “suburb of Dubai.” The Al-Zora project is undertaken in collaboration between the government of Ajman, private investors, and Solidere International in a billion-dollar partnership. Another mixed-used project is the 72-tower commercial and residential complex, Emirates City, which will cost an estimated AED15 billion ($4.1 billion).
Tameer Holding, based in neighboring Sharjah, is building residences and commercial properties in Almeera Village, a freehold development that advertises its location of being only 15 minutes from Dubai International Airport. The project was initially expected to cost AED1.2 billion ($410 million).
However, the price tag is likely to rise. According to Tameer, the developer is currently in the final stages of negotiations with the Ajman government to lift the 11-story cap initially placed on buildings in Almeera Village.
“Initially, the majority of properties available in Ajman are residential,” Roger Wilkinson, a managing director of the real estate management and leasing company Northern Emirates Property, told Executive. “However, Ajman does not want to become a satellite city that will only accommodate people who will have to commute to other emirates for work or for pleasure. You can purchase leasehold offices there.”
Once the leasehold law was passed in 2004, the building boom began. Since then, three projects have been completed, adding over 1,800 new apartments to the real estate pool and 26 buildings to the skyline.
Prices have been on the rise since the first new leasehold project was completed in 2005. The “introductory launch price” per square foot for an apartment in the first development was AED157 ($43) per square foot but has risen in increments to between AED300 ($82) and AED400 ($110), according to Wilkinson.
He described property prices in Ajman as “realistic and reasonable,” which currently attracts mainly buyers for investment purposes, but prices are set to increase.
Ajman has an active free zone that was established in 1988 and received autonomous status in 1996. Future development plans include relocation of the emirate’s port and construction of an airport.
Ajman is the smallest emirate in the UAE with a land surface of 259 square kilometers and a population estimated at 235,000. Its southern neighbor is Sharjah.
The emirate at the tip of the United Arab Emirates, Ras al-Khaimah, catapulted itself into wider awareness around three years ago. The launch package included investor conferences, the formation of an investment authority, the establishment of a real estate company, and, importantly, a marketing approach of compacting the emirate’s elaborate but unwieldy Arabic name into RAK for all these tasks.
RAK Properties, the emirate’s primary real estate development firm, was established in early 2005 and undertook an initial public offering worth $302 million (AED1.1 billion) one month after its incorporation. The company is owned to 5% directly by the RAK government; the shareholder base includes corporate, governmental, and private investors as well as 49% in circulation on the Abu Dhabi Securities Market.
Initial flagship projects by RAK Properties include a $2.7 billion (AED9.9 billion) coastal leisure development, launched as Mina al-Arab in spring of last year, and two residential towers that are said to reach the market next year as its first completed projects.
In 2006, RAK Properties assumed a stake of over 20% in another development company by name of Rakeen, set up together with the emirate’s government and the national airline. Rakeen claimed having operations in eight countries less than one year after its creation and is involved in large new projects in Ras al-Khaimah, including a financial free zone first announced this summer.
Industrial zones, ports, and infrastructure are part of the emirate’s development program but its tourism projects have attracted greater attention. RAK’s announced development ambitions in 2006 reached literally if not to the stars but at least — almost — into orbit with a plan by a commercial US company to create a commercial spaceport for extra-planetary tourism through suborbital flights that provide five minutes of weightlessness.
In 2005, RAK authorities teamed up with Saraya Holdings and the Arab Bank group in a resort and residential project. The Saraya Islands project will play on the theme of Arab seafaring heritage and address the luxury resort crowd, according to statements issued by the joint venture partners in December of last year.
Newer projects in the RAK development portfolio include a $2.5 billion (AED8.4 billion) free zone for the hospitality industry under the name of “ihottz” that was announced in April and Financial City, which was introduced in June as the center piece development for an offshore project called RAK Offshore. Owned by the Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority, or RAKIA, and developed by Rakeen, the offshore project aims at becoming a center hosting financial, legal, logistics, and insurance services.
RAKIA confesses to a private-public model of economic development in which the vision of the emirate’s crown prince and deputy ruler Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr al-Qasimi is of great importance. He ascended to these positions in 2003 as younger son of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qasimi, who has ruled Ras Al-Khaimah since 1948.
According to RAKIA, the emirate has a population of 250,000, an area of 2,468 square kilometers, a coastline of 65 km, and almost zero crime.
Fujairah and Umm Al-Quwain
Tucked away from the international attention that Dubai and Abu Dhabi attract because of their outsized ambitions and wealth, the emirates of Fujairah and Umm al-Quwain have nonetheless seated themselves on the bandwagon of real estate development. Fujairah is situated on the eastern slopes of the Hajar Mountains, facing the open waters of the Indian Ocean. At least for the time being, it seems a bit distant from Dubai to be a major contender in the game of commuter communities but it started sprouting resort hotels that inserted oases of luxury into the frame of the terrain’s harsh natural beauty.
Land ownership in Fujairah is more restrictive than in other emirates of the UAE, which limits its attractiveness for residential buyers. On the industrial front, Fujairah has airport, port, and free zone. Its strongest prospect for industrial growth appears to be as shipping hub for oil and gas, which bring producers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia the advantage of avoiding the shipping bottleneck of the Strait of Hormuz. Plans call for (further) port expansion, construction of a major pipeline in the next few years, and erection of an LNG storage plant.
The development of tourist hotels and resorts was promoted by the Emirate of Fujairah since early in the century when the local government co-invested in building the Le Meridien Fujairah Beach Resort, the first of several resort projects in the sea-in-front, mountain-in-back category. A Fujairah tourism bureau (FTB) was established by government decree from 1997 and apparently erupted with a spurt of content in news in 2001/2002 (including a welcome page in Arabic, German, and English).
According to the FTB, Fujairah covers a territory of 1,450 square kilometers on a length of 70 kilometers. The emirate has an estimated population of 130,000 and it is ruled since 1974 by Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sharqi.
At the crossroads of the UAE’s northern emirates, Umm Al-Quwain is an emirate that aspires to greater prominence. The overarching development project is the master-planned Al Salam City, a mega real estate concept with a timeline of more than a decade and a target of attracting 300,000 or even 500,000 in population. The development rationale relies on both nearness to Dubai and creation of the city’s own economic sphere.
Announced in 2005, the project cost was estimated at $8 billion to be invested by 2020. With its implementation this project, run by Tameer Holding, would make the emirate the UAE’s biggest gainer in the number of residents by far, given that the 2006 national census results attribute a population of less than 50,000 to Umm Al-Quwain.
Two coastal resort projects also grace the emirate, the $2.2 billion (AED8 billion) White Bay waterfront resort community and the $3.3 billion (AED12 billion) Umm al-Quwain Marina. Apart from these big ticket residential items, the emirate is investing into infrastructure development, including a large desalination plant. An industrial zone with integrated camp housing for laborers, the Emirates Modern Industrial Area, was developed by Tameer. A free zone has been in existence next to the emirate’s Ahmed Bin Rashid Port since 1998.
Umm Al-Quwain seems to maintain no significant own presence on the internet. Its territory stretches over 750 square kilometers and entails what UAE tourism websites routinely call “endless beaches.”