Dubai: Issam Galadari is a soldier of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rahid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Or at least that’s how he describes himself.
The chief executive of Ithra Dubai, a wholly owned real estate subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD), is in a philosophical, triumphant mood.
“You don’t know how proud I am, how far we’ve come in 30 years. It’s all the vision of Shaikh Mohammad. I have been one of his soldiers. I am his solider.”
“Sometimes we feel it’s difficult to cope with his vision,” he says, smiling. “But it’s great.”
Galadari has just finished talking about One Za’abeel, Ithra’s flagship project.
We need to make better communities ... Make people feel like [Dubai] is their home, so they feel like they have to participate, to keep it clean, to keep it nice.”
- Issam Galadari | Chief executive of Ithra Dubai
A luxury mixed use development, the glassy twin towers of One Za’abeel are expected to loom large over Shaikh Zayed Road and Zabeel Park when they open in 2020.
“It doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are, at the end of the day, we are all human,” Galadari says of his intentions to ensure that One Za’abeel does not become a gated refuge for the ultra-wealthy, excluding the kinds of people who helped to build it.
Companies should not only look at what is commercially viable, he adds, but should look at how they can contribute to society as a whole.
“We need to make better communities for everybody. Make it more friendly. Make people feel like [Dubai] is their home, so they feel like they have to participate, to keep it clean, to keep it nice.”
But it is not this addition to the recognisable skyline of Dubai that Galadari wants to discuss.
In the same vein as his aim to create real estate that functions for the many, not the few, the chief executive is keen to talk about one of his slightly less glamorous developments: A fish market.
Deira is one of Dubai’s most densely populated areas, with limited undeveloped land.
Ithra, however, is currently in the midst of a multibillion dirham rejuvenation project, set to completely revamp much of Deira’s waterfront area with trading hubs, hotels, parks, plazas, and an extension to the famous souk.
As part of the project, Ithra has opened a new, 120,000 square metre, state-of-the-art market, selling all kinds of fish and fresh produce.
“By creating better facilities, we are creating more business opportunities for traders,” whilst also providing something that is socially-enriching, and not simply about luxury.
Galadri slips quickly back in to the philosophical: “We tried to keep the existing fabric, and follow the same culture there. The markets have been in Deira for a long time, we didn’t want to change that.”
The chief executive says that with the new market, he was under some pressure to move away from the historical bartering system and introduce fixed prices on produce, in an effort to modernise the operation.
“With the waterfront market, we tried to keep the culture of bartering, bargaining between vendors and traders,” he says.
“We didn’t want to fix the price. [We wanted] to just create the forum for the people, and let them trade. Bargaining has been there since the past, let it continue. We should not touch any fixing the prices.”
It’s nice to carry something from the past, from the culture, in to the future, Galadari adds.
That is not to say the market is anachronistic, however.
For vendors hawking their wares, screens around the auction area flag up prices and orders, whilst digital instrumentation punctuates the crude ice and fish carcasses. Many traders carry with them laptops and tablets, recording sales on spreadsheets. It is a wholly modern operation.
Eventually, Galadari says he wants to track all the orders, their volumes and values, all the kinds of fish and fresh produce that are sold (he says they currently have 350 species of fish at the market), and in which season they are most popular.
But for visitors looking to acquire fish that’s a little less raw, Ithra has built a number of restaurants and shops adjacent to the market. Many of the restaurants allow you to pick fish from the market, and then hand it over to be cooked for you by the chef.
He says this will hopefully make the market more of a tourist attraction.
“It’s a destination. What we have created is an environment for the family to come,” the chief executive says.
This belief in the potential of the market to become one of Dubai’s many landmarks underpins Galadari’s vision for the city: A location not only famous for man-made islands and malls, but markets too.
“Dubai has so many iconic places to visit. The fountains, the Palm. But this market … is very, very important for the tourists also. When I lived in the UK, I used to enjoy the market. It gives you a different feeling. You see lots of luxury areas, and you see the marketplace,” he said.
“We should create an atmosphere for tourists to come and visit different things.”
Offering a broader appeal
As a subsidiary of one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, this attempt to diversify what Dubai has to offer strikes at the heart of Ithra’s remit.
Its portfolio is a careful balance of luxury, an essential element of the city’s appeal, and developments such as the waterfront market that will broaden that appeal whilst allowing small businesses to flourish.
“The purpose of enriching is to provide all the facilities for the people to prosper. We are a government entity. We have to encourage the small traders to get business. We need to invite them to be creative. We listen to them, we have open doors. We try to work with them to make sure that all of us will be successful,” Galadari said.
“It’s not just about creating something iconic. We have to create a space where all humankind can live together. We don’t want to create segregation between the people. We want to create harmony.”