An interior view of Zero 6, the first mall of its kind, within touching distance of Sharjah University. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: The first of Sharjah’s new-generation shopping destinations has opened its doors in full. The “Zero 6” mall — located within easy reach of the fast-emerging University City — is going big on the leisure and entertainment side of things, featuring the largest IMAX screen in the UAE.

“We weren’t going to create another “big-box” type of retail,” said Eisa Attaya, Managing Director of Alef Group, the mall’s developer. “Being this close to University City, in fact within walking distance, the Zero 6 had to appeal to the young. The mall’s architecture and the mix of brands — quite a few new to Sharjah — was done with the intent to retain brick-and-mortar’s appeal to that generation.

“That meant us going with new F&B options, there’s the IMAX, and a top-of-the-line fitness centre. Anything to keep the young to keep coming in for more. Just another mall offering the same would not have been right.”

The Zero 6 features 16,000 square metres of leasable area, carved out from a built-up area of 37,000 square metres, which includes the car parking space. Combined investments, including the cost of land, came to just under Dh300 million.

Across Sharjah, there is a development renaissance, with new areas being fast-tracked for residential and retail projects.

Specific to retail, there are multiple ongoing developments led by the likes of Nakheel (for a community mall), Eagle Hills (whose portfolio involves creating a retail destination called the “Kalba Waterfront”), and Kuwait’s Mabanee (which is building a retail component on a 65,000 square metres site at Mughaider).

Plus, there will be the twin retail strips forming part of the sprawling Aljada master development from Arada. The Tilal City will have its own mall, while the LuLu Group retail subsidiary is building Avenues Mall Sharjah near the cricket stadium.

And then there is the Majid Al Futtaim Group aiming for a 2020 opening for its City Centre Al Zahia, its largest retail hub in Sharjah.

As for Alef Group, the Zero 6 is its first taste of big-time retail. And it has no plans to be confined to this one venture. “We are now designing a second such destination for Sharjah, which too will bear the Zero 6 stamp,” said Attaya. “The full disclosure on the location and investments will be made at the right time.”

But there is another project that has Alef’s full attention now — a Dh3 billion mixed-use community Al Mamsha, also in close range of University City. “The Dh1.5 billion Zone 1 is where much of the project activity is taking place,” he added. “And whatever residential sales we have had so far generated demand.

“This is a five-year project and should keep us busy every second of it. There’s a retail portion, but not something that we can develop into a Zero 6 format.

“For the time being, our commitment is to remain focused on possibilities we can create within Sharjah. If in time we need to take a call on possibilities outside of its borders, we will do that. Why not?”

Sharjah pushes the boundary on retail

The biggest names in the UAE’s retail development space are heading for the Northern Emirates. Nakheel’s announcement that it would take its first steps outside of Dubai with a community mall in Sharjah can only help accelerate the process. The Dh75 million project will be in the Al Rahmaniya locality.

Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi based Eagle Hills announced three projects in alliance with Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, including the Kalba Waterfront along the Corniche. On completion in March 2019, Kalba Waterfront is to be one of the leading retail and leisure projects in the eastern region. The retail portion will span a gross leasing area of 11,200 square metres at a development cost of Dh160 million.

According to retailers, Sharjah’s new retail push opens up new growth possibilities, much in the same way that Dubai did over the last two decades. Mix in enough of F&B and other entertainment trappings, these new retail destinations can score big.