Nakheel is resetting its ambitions to be in sync with Dubai's 2040 Urban Master Plan. But there's one constant - more waterfront destinations. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai master-developer Nakheel intends to bring back greater focus on what it has done well in the past – build waterfront destinations and which align with Dubai’s 2040 Master Plan. And Nakheel already holds substantial land in and around the water, according to the CEO, Naaman Atallah.

“We became the ‘master of the seas’ with all our (water-side) developments, whether that’s the Palm or Jumeirah Islands, an inland community that has water to it,” said Atallah. “We were the waterfront developer of Dubai, and today our mission is to be the premier developer of waterfront communities going forward with the city 2040 masterplan.”

A sign of what those ambitions are were on display recently, when Nakheel confirmed a change of masterplan and rebranding for the Deira Island development, a project built on reclaimed land and which already has sizeable infrastructure in place.

In its stead, there will be a resized ‘Dubai Islands’, with five islands spanning 17 square kilometres. And with extensive waterfront options, of course.

“Our priority is on multiple fronts - we need to provide Dubai with growth in hospitality that we are seeing every day,” the CEO said. “Then, we have to cater to the people moving to Dubai from every part of the world. Dubai Islands is key to that.

“It will be re-masterplanned and we are still in the vision phase. Our task will be to multiply the kilometres of waterfront land in Dubai. We also want to deliver golf courses on Dubai Islands, and above all make sure this is done on a lower density basis. After the pandemic, that’s one mood shift we have seen with property buyers.”

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One of the original renderings of 'Deira Islands', which will soon be fitted out with a new masterplan after its rebrand as 'Dubai Islands'. The plan is to build a 'low-density' destination and add to Dubai's beachfront. Image Credit: Supplied

Back to thinking destination

In recent years, Nakheel had focused on niche communities, whether at Jebel Ali, Nad Al Sheba or elsewhere. These primarily villa-led projects did quite well as the Dubai market picked up late 2020. In tandem, the Palm – which is where Nakheel made its mark – kept scoring those high-on-visibility sales of Dh100 million and over, capped by one for Dh280 million, said to be bought by the Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s family.

But Palm is nearly built up, and this is why Nakheel is stepping in with more of its destination-making capabilities.

One thing is for sure, Nakheel will not be adding to the land bank. “We do have a sizeable land and with that comes a major responsibility,” said the CEO. “Nakheel has delivered on transforming this land bank into wonderful communities - we will continue that path.”

Will it mean selling off some of the land that don’t fit in with those ambitions? “We do sell land from time to time to third-party developers,” said Atallah. “We will not obviously deliver buildings on all of that land on our own.

“Our land bank is sizeable enough - good for us to work on, and good for third-parties to build for years to come. We are not adding to that.”

Where else in Dubai?

Once the reworked Dubai Islands start taking shape, Nakheel can indeed turn its attention to locations closer to the Palm. The land holdings there include those meant for a second Palm and also a waterfront ‘city’.

Investor need for by-the-water properties is a near constant in each market upturn, and seems to run on a dynamic that’s doesn’t need the pulls and pressures of the wider real estate market.

According to the CEO, the resetting of Nakheel’s targets does not mean exiting from building malls or hospitality-focussed projects. “Our vision remains the same – build master communities,” Atallah said. “We will keep developing some assets that are key to activating those communities, whether malls or hotels. That will remain in our portfolio of managed assets. We will continue to be both an asset manager and developer.”