Adding to the Architectural and Cultural Fabric of Sharjah

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The Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate recently welcomed a distinguished speaker from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), His Excellency Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal, to share with us his experience leading the transformation and economic diversification of the emirate of Sharjah.  Mr. Al Sarkal is currently the Managing Director of Chapter 3 LLC and the former Executive Chairman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq).  For two decades in Shurooq, he was the driving force behind the investments, cultural growth, and development of Sharjah by using real estate development and strategic partnerships to spur Sharjah’s transformation.  As the Managing Director of Chapter 3, he is passionate about advancing the growth for both institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) companies, and nurturing connections for catalytic growth with a focus on technology, mobility, and the overall future of the region.

Map of United Arab Emirates

Sharjah is one of the seven emirates in the UAE, located just east of the emirate of Dubai.  As the third largest emirate in the UAE, Sharjah is a significant industrial and cultural hub for the country, producing $35bn of GDP.  The emirate flaunts an array of exceptional tourist destinations focusing on the theme of culture, history, and education.  Under the vision of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi and Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi and the stewardship of Mr. Al Sarkal, Sharjah was crowned as the ‘Capital of Islamic Culture’ and a ‘Unique and Distinguished Tourist Destination’.  Furthermore, the emirate was also given prestigious recognition as the ‘Cultural Capital of the Arab World’ by UNESCO.

In the early planning and ideation phases of Sharjah, the municipality had to brainstorm ways to utilize real estate as means of economic diversification and transformation.  The emirates’ geographical location presents both an opportunity and a challenge, as Shurooq had to produce developments that offer unique tourist experiences that complement Dubai’s and leverage other emirates’ products.  Not only that, but Shurooq had to also produce real estate investment opportunities that are unique from that of the other emirates and plan for a city that will become a source of pride for the people of Sharjah.

Shurooq developed a three-pronged real estate development strategy to meet the aforementioned goals and constraints.  The strategies are (1) target niche offerings, (2) build transformative icons and (3) increase product breadth.  Additionally, real estate developments under all these three strategies are selected with authenticity and sustainability in mind.

Under strategy (1), Mr. Al Sarkal shared with us how Shurooq revitalizes and reimagines existing assets and ideates differentiated hospitality and tourism offerings.  Some key examples include the Heart of Sharjah and Moon Retreat.  Both developments were previously underleveraged sites that transformed into unique cultural and eco-destinations.  These developments leverage existing assets and hence are noted to be less capital-intensive and generate outsized direct and indirect returns.  The Kalba Eco-Tourism Project is another destination that were saved and preserved to provide new sustainable experiences for visitors to indulge in the natural offerings of Sharjah.

Al Bait Sharjah, a sustainable luxury resort located in the Heart of Sharjah

The House of Wisdom in Sharjah is an iconic monument that redefines the concept of a library and a cultural center.  The monument was built under strategy (2), to build transformative icons, and aims to promote and ease access to knowledge.  Built to create a space that evokes a feeling of belonging, the development provides a wide variety of amenities including cafés, galleries, book collections, event spaces, and more.

House of Wisdom

Finally, under strategy (3), Mr. Al Sarkal also discussed with us various projects he undertook to increase the product breadth offerings of Sharjah.  One notable project was the Maryam Island, an ongoing AED 4.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) mixed-use development located in Downtown Sharjah.  The goal of Maryam Island was to create an upscale but affordable regenerative real estate development.  The 460,000 square meter site will include components such as waterfront residential units, retail outlets, 4- & 5-star hotels, and beach access for its occupants.

Maryam Island

Sharjah successfully attracted more than $220 billion of foreign investments in 2020.  This flow of investments was made possible by the previously mentioned strategies and policies, such as the real estate-backed economic free zones.  Dubai was noted to be a pioneer of the free zone model, which offers foreign businesses attractive concessions and several investment incentives, including 100 percent ownership of a subsidiary and zero taxation.

Before concluding his presentation, Mr. Al Sarkal reminded us that our goal should not just be to become a developer, but an entity that creates transformative change.  Mr. Al Sarkal enjoys exploring, learning, and creating new ideas that inspire the people around him and plans to continue doing so as the Managing Director of Chapter 3.  On behalf of the Cornell Baker Program, we would like to extend our gratitude to Mr. Al Sarkal for imparting valuable learning opportunities and knowledge on the innovative real estate strategies of Sharjah to our students.

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