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Life is back to normal at Mina Zayed after the closure of all outlets to secure the area due of the controlled demolition of the Mina Plaza Building. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Last weekend, the skyline of Abu Dhabi changed as the abandoned Meena Plaza, towering at 165 metres and visible from the Corniche, was demolished. The flattening has made way for a planned redevelopment of the Mina Zayed area and many store owners say they are actually looking forward to the transformation.

They hope that the air-conditioned markets, newly-established residential communities and new food and beverage options may usher in new customers to one of Abu Dhabi’s longest-standing trading hubs.

“Our poultry shop has been here for nearly 15 years and the stream of customers has remained steady. However, with the COVID-19 outbreak, more and more people have begun to make online purchases and this hasn’t been a positive trend for us. Hopefully, the new market will bring people back to our stores,” Rawfal Latheef, a manager at a poultry store, told Gulf News.

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Shops at Mina Zayed are back in business after the demolition. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

“We definitely saw very few customers over the last few months, whereas we used to see more than 200 people a day. So it’s exciting to hear about the new project, especially because we’ve heard that we will be able to move in to the new markets once they are built,” said Mansoor, a salesperson at a dates and dry food store.

Safe demolition

Both the stores are located less than 500 metres away from the site of the Meena Plaza and like all the other outlets in the area, were closed from Thursday evening until late on Friday or early Saturday. The safe demolition of the four towers, which together comprised 144 floors, was completed in just 10 seconds, thereby making it to the Guinness World Records for the ‘Tallest building demolished using explosives (controlled demolition)’.

“There was still some dust when we returned to our shop on Saturday morning and we could see clear skies where the towers once stood,” said Ziyad, a florist who works at a plant shop in Mina Zayed.

Beloved port

The port was set up in 1972, and soon became the centre for seaborne trade in the capital. Residents would frequent the market, looking for all manners of trinkets, wholesale goods, produce and foods at a bargain. Over time, the number of shops grew and similar varieties of stores were grouped together, located in one-storey concrete buildings or within shed-like structures — all within the vicinity of the port and its warehouses, the Cruise Terminal and The Club.

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Traders are hoping for a return to normality amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Shoppers would stride along the streets to get from store to store, or drive a short distance to cross into other markets. A large supermarket and a number of furniture and toy stores were located in the area in the 2000s. To Abu Dhabi residents, Mina Zayed was the place to visit if you were looking for something traditional or unique.

The area also saw a number of eateries spring up, with the cafeterias serving piping hot ‘karak chai’ and the larger restaurants offering fresh seafood to diners.

New plans for the port

Work on the Meena Plaza began a while ago. Eventually, Abu Dhabi’s municipal regulator, the Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT), ordered the development of a new masterplan for the port and wharf.

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The demolition of Meena Plaza was part of the second phase of the redevelopment Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

The demolition of Meena Plaza was part of the second phase of the redevelopment. Master developer, Modon, will now construct new purpose-built markets in the area to replace the existing fish market, fruit and vegetable souq, carpet souq, furniture and household stores and plant market. Chief executive officer Bill Oregan said there will also be a market for antiques and books and all of the markets will be handed over upon completion.

Ziyad is hopeful that he will be able to work in a store that is located in an air-conditioned building. Currently, most of the plant shops are located next to one another under a shed-like structure.

Latheef added that it will be good to have all kinds of shops next to one another. “Proximity to other shops may bring about more business. At present, the fish market is some distance away from our store, as are the plant shops. But if the redevelopment groups retail outlets near one another, we can expect some referred business,” he said.

In addition, store owners are hopeful that the prime plots to be set up by master developer Aldar will see more residents settling in the area, thus creating more business.

Given its location at the gateway to Saadiyat Island, an overhauled port destination at Mina Zayed is expected to attract even more residents and tourists.