‘Day-by-day plan’ in place to ensure Doha Festival City opens this fall

Photos courtesy of Doha Festival City

Around 400 shops, the food court, cinema and some entertainment offerings at Doha Festival City will all open to the public when the mall debuts on Sept. 29, its chief executive has said.

Work on the development north of Doha on Al Shamal Road has been underway since October 2011, and there is a “day-by-day” plan to ensure the facility is finished and ready to go by this fall, said Kareem Shamma, the CEO of BASREC – the mall’s owner and developer.

Once complete, the 433,000 square meter development, which already includes Qatar’s first Ikea, will be one of the country’s biggest commercial centers.

It will have 550 units, a 19 18-screen 4D VOX cinema, an Angry Birds theme park, a themed role play zone, an e-sports gaming arena, F1 and flight simulators and a snow park.

In an interview with Doha News, Shamma said said:

“The mall will open its doors for trading on Sept. 29. This will be the entire mall – we took the decision to go for the whole thing. All the corridors will be open, the food court, the cinemas and at least one or two of the theme parks will be open.

Of the total 550 units we have, around 400 of them will be open and operating on that day.”

Despite the scale of the project, Shamma added that he also foresees no issues with securing the necessary operating licenses from Qatar authorities to open in seven months time – though Civil Defense approval is a hurdle that contributes to delays in many construction projects here.

What’s done so far

Unofficial drone footage of the mall’s site, taken last month and posted on YouTube, gives a bird’s eye view of the construction progress so far:

With the mall now 90 percent leased out, Shamma and his team invited retailers on a tour of the site last month to give them an update and convince them of the planned opening date.

“They came very skeptical. No one believes here that something will open on time. But they left very, very convinced,” he said.

Describing the progress on the center so far, Shamma added:

“Inside (the mall) you see clean corridors, escalators already installed, shop units already hoarded off and ready for tenants to fit out.”

Retailers' tour in Jan. 2016

Doha Festival City/Facebook

Retailers’ tour in Jan. 2016

One of the mall’s flagship stores, the upmarket British brand Harvey Nichols, has already been handed over to the company to start designing and fitting the interiors, he added.

“We needed to let the retailers know we are serious about the opening date and for them to be ready. It was a huge decision to make, to announce a fixed date for opening. We had to sit down with the contractor, to make sure he was on board with it.

We’ve had a very collaborative relationship. We said – no matter what, we will solve the problems together. That has been the story through all this project,” Shamma said.

A detailed plan has been drawn up for the remaining construction during the seven months leading up to the mall’s launch.

“We asked the contractor – how are you going to finish all the details, when are you going to start tiling the floors, doing the wall finishings? We have a day-by-day plan right up to that moment we open our doors,” he said.

Rendering of Doha Festival City

Doha Festival City

Rendering of Doha Festival City

With so many major construction projects underway in Qatar, entities responsible for giving operating licenses such as Civil Defense are under pressure, which often contributes to delays in the facilities opening on time.

However, Shamma said he is “reasonably confident” that Festival City will not suffer such setbacks.

“We recognize the limitations of the government departments – there is a lot of development and they have limited resources. But our project shareholders have already sat with the government authorities.”

He continued:

“We are employing consultants to make sure we know what needs to be done to pass before we even apply to the government. That makes life easier for everyone. We have built up a good relationship – one of trust. We have kept them fully informed and they have been wonderful, which has helped to make the inspection process as smooth as possible.”

However, Shamma admitted that stores would be under pressure to ensure they meet the Sept. 29 deadline.

There is a shortage of quality fit-out contractors in Qatar and they will be in demand in the coming months not only from Festival City tenants, but also from stores in rival developments such as Mall of Qatar, which is also scheduled to launch later this year, he said.

Though at least some of the mall’s entertainment complex will open on schedule, construction is continuing on the mall’s southern end and it will likely be early 2017 before all the theme parks are up and running, he added.

Plans for a yet-to-be named adjacent hotel and a 1,400-capacity convention center have also hit some delays and are now schedule to open in early 2018, around six months later than previously announced.

Mall of Qatar

Work also appears to be continuing apace at rival Mall of Qatar, on the Dukhan Road.

Photos on the mall’s website dated from January this year show sections of the interior already finished and escalators installed:

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The mall’s deputy managing director Shem Krey said in a statement in November that construction of the structure’s core and shell was 85 percent complete.

The development has already pushed back its scheduled opening date to Q3 this year, to give more time for stores’ interior fit-out, meaning that the two biggest malls in the country are now planning to open at the same time.

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