Dubai: A 24-hour destination? Not yet.
But the sprawling Dubai Design District (d3) is well on its way to being an 18-hour hub for its people to work, shop and even dine. The only element that’s missing is the living part, and d3 will set that right in time. And when that happens, it will turn into a 24-hour hotspot.
Mohammed Saeed Al Shehhi
“I think we have already created something for a professional working at d3 to come back later in the evening and dine in,” said Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, CEO. “This is what Dubai is providing now — something more than mall experiences. Projects such as La Mer, City Walk …
“When we were putting the plans together. we wanted this place to be a full destination. The third phase of d3 will create that space.”
Currently, d3 has crossed the 7,000 mark in the number of people who turn up at the many offices each day. There are 420 office units in Phase 1.
The first two phases are entirely given up to create offices and workshops for the creative community — the designers, the specialist consultancies with a creative streak in them, and start-ups intent on offering something that is not the norm.
“The Phase 1 works were completed in 2015 and we have 94 per cent occupancy,” said Al Shehhi. “Phase 2 should be complete by end 2019, but we haven’t started on the leasing. By early next year, we should most probably start with the soft bookings.”
In the last three years, d3 has been rated by independent real estate consultancies as among the top performing office destinations in Dubai. That was based on the response generated by the Phase 1 releases. Phase 2 will make room for a campus and a design-focused university with curriculum put together by MIT and Parsons. “We always had in our masterplan space for a university to support the design industry,” said Al Shehhi.
But it will be the third phase that will take d3 beyond the realms of being a hotspot for offices. And create that 24X7 destination.
“The third phase will stretch all the way to the Water Canal,” the CEO said. “That’s under design and we will have boutique hotels and a strip of retail right on the water’s edge.
“This phase will take a further three to five years to build.
“The plans on the residential component are under design. We have a 1.8-kilometre stretch of waterfront and we were lucky to have the widest portion of the Creek in front of us. It makes it important that the masterplan creates opportunities for as much interaction with water as possible.
“We are clear in our minds that the residential component is important. In the planning phase, we spoke to the creatives, asked them what the ideal home would be for you. That feedback gets incorporated into our design.
“When we design the masterplan, we made sure d3 is where we can live, work, play and, now, learn.”
The last one comes from having that design university. For the moment, the on-site campus is “receiving applicants now and they are fitting out classes,” the CEO said. “It’s a great opportunity to have academia right next to the industry alongside the big brands, the SMEs and start-ups. The student gets to see how he can start a business, grow to be an SME and potentially a big brand. It’s all there at their doorstep.”
The whole of d3 across sits three phases will cover 25 million square feet. At full throttle, it will have around 17,000 creatives coming in on a day-to-day basis, including the students and visitors.
But is d3 on its way to being one of the pricier parts of the city? “You could say we are choosy about who we take in — they need to be a creative,” said Al Shehhi. “But I won’t say that makes us pricey. We are surrounded by three main highways and in many ways in the centre of Dubai. Yet, if you compare us to the developments around us, we are not pricey.”
Getting creative even with the start-ups
Even with the retailers coming in, d3 has clear preferences for those who can conjure up something beyond the tried and tested.
“To be a true destination, we will need to have those retail concepts that will attract people to come here,” said Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, CEO. “Sixty per cent of our concepts are home-grown. If you go to The Lighthouse, it’s two bankers who came up with a brilliant (F&B) concept. There’s OneLife, which is very unique for Dubai; we have Mum’s Table; and we have The Espresso Lab launched by an Emirati entrepreneur.
“At the end of the day, d3 will always be about designers. We want to attract footfalls for our designer tenants. The showrooms we have are not just offices, but creative spaces.”