Posted inInterview

“Bahrain Harbour Row is 100 per cent sold out, with the majority of buyers being Bahraini nationals”

Abdulaziz Tawfeeqi, Senior Director of Infracorp in an exclusive interview shares how Bahrain Harbour, a groundbreaking mixed-use development is setting a new standard for urban living, prioritising sustainability, walkability, and a thriving community experience

Bahrain Harbour: A model for sustainable, community-focused living

As Bahrain undergoes urbanisation, more individuals are choosing to reside and work in centrally located mixed-use developments that offer a variety of amenities, providing them with access to a comprehensive and improved lifestyle following a ‘live-work-play’ model. These modern developments are designed to be interconnected and human-centric, promoting a sense of connectivity, convenience, and community.

Some advantages of these developments include reduced commute times, social and recreational opportunities, pedestrian-friendly environments, a strong sense of community, and access to a wide range of services and amenities. As a result, investors and developers have taken notice of this trend and are increasingly focused on creating spaces that seamlessly blend residential, commercial, and cultural components, and this approach has resulted in vibrant and dynamic environments that cater to the needs of the surrounding communities, ultimately enhancing the overall quality of life for residents and workers.

Hence, I sat down with Abdulaziz Tawfeeqi, Senior Director of Infracorp at a quaint coffee shop to discuss the upcoming developments at the Bahrain Harbour development that is part of Bahrain Financial Harbour, which is adjacent to Downtown Central Manama and Bahrain’s main souq (Bab Al-Bahrain).

I visited the Harbour the other day and loved the way the project is shaping up. Can you tell me about your vision?

Infracorp’s approach to development is not to deliver one-off buildings or to sell a house or apartment. Our approach is to build a sustainable community with a specific lifestyle.

The team identified a market gap at the Bahrain Financial Harbour, where a large working community was present in the morning but the area was quiet after 5 pm. They saw potential for a mixed-use development that catered to the work, live, and play needs of the community. The residential component was developed first to serve the Financial Harbour, which is the largest office development in Bahrain. The high-end residential units were specifically designed for professionals working in big banks, government positions, and young working professionals to provide a convenient and desirable living space for them.

Additionally, we aimed to cater to both tourists and business travellers visiting Bahrain for various reasons. To achieve this goal, we introduced two hotel options: the exquisite 5-star Kempinski hotel and our own Charthouse brand, designed for shorter family-oriented stays in an apartment-style setting. In addition, our development features an array of exciting food and beverage options, retail outlets, top-notch restaurants, cosy coffee shops, and captivating art galleries.

What are the key components you believe are necessary for creating a well-rounded experience in modern mixed-use community-focused developments? Do you think that the approach being taken in the establishment of Harbour will raise the standard for future developments?

Absolutely! Due to its strategically central location, the Bahrain Harbour will significantly enhance the experience of tourists visiting Bahrain. Currently, one of the major challenges faced by tourists is the lack of pedestrian-friendly and connected areas upon leaving their hotel. The streets are not pedestrian-friendly, spoiling their overall experience.

Also, the hotels in Bahrain are isolated from each other and lack a cohesive network. Therefore, it was imperative for us to ensure that the Harbour does not encounter these same issues. Guests can comfortably stay within the vicinity without the need for frequent car rides, allowing for a seamless and convenient experience for a prolonged visit.

We have created a diverse mix of complementary facilities to meet the varied needs of our guests. From accommodations to dining, and relaxation spots to a spa and gym, we have ensured that everything they require is available on-site. Additionally, we have established physical connections with neighbouring developments. As part of the Avenues Mall expansion, our promenade will be seamlessly connected to their walkway, allowing travellers from Harbour to easily access Avenues or Bahrain Bay without having to cross any streets.

What were the key challenges you faced in the execution of this project?

It is something new, not as a concept but ‘new’ in this market. Hence, there is some hesitancy and a whole lot of questions from people. A lot of them feel that why they should live above a restaurant or beside an office. However, if you go back in time and look at the historical urban planning of older cities in the region, such as Manama or Muharraq, we find that mixed-use development projects within a 500-metre radius were commonplace.

So, if you look from the outside this project doesn’t make sense but historically it is a proven model, which we abandoned because of the convenience of cars and well-established road networks. However, as the population is growing, traffic congestion is worsening, and it is becoming challenging to commute smoothly.

Earlier, anywhere you wanted to go, regardless of distance, it was a 15-minute drive. That’s not the case anymore. I was living in Riffa, and coming in, in the morning it was a 15-minute drive every day. Now I live in the Harbour, and it’s a 50-second walk from my apartment to my office, so once the development took shape, people saw its value and are fully embracing it. It’s exciting that we see residents walking to work. There is a guy that has an electric scooter and goes to Bahrain Bay every morning and in the evenings, you see people jogging through the development, so we are glad that people are embracing this concept.

Who comprises the majority of your tenant population? In the past, Bahraini families typically resided in larger villas with extended family members. However, there has been a noticeable shift in purchasing behaviours and affordability over time. How would you characterize the current real estate market, and do you believe that mixed-use developments provide viable solutions to the evolving market landscape?

We are pleasantly surprised to see diverse buyer segments who have purchased homes in Harbour Row. Initially, we expected our main buyers to be investors and families from the GCC. However, we are excited to announce that Harbour Row is now 100 per cent sold, with the majority of buyers being Bahraini nationals. With over 500 units in Harbour Row, the community primarily consists of young Bahraini professionals in their early thirties or newlywed working couples, as well as retirees whose children have moved out.

For young professionals, the convenience of living at Harbour Row is unparalleled as their offices are just a 10-minute drive away, they have a gym downstairs, and a pool upstairs, and more importantly they are living in the heart of Manama. On the other hand, retirees find solace in the calming effect of living by the waterfront, waking up to the sight of the sea every morning. After all, as Bahrainis, our connection to the sea is profound.

The commercial and retail promenade attracts a diverse range of individuals throughout the day. College students can be seen studying at Mukani coffee shop during the day, while young professionals and couples dine there in the evening. Families with children on bicycles are a common sight on weekends, creating a bustling atmosphere with various segments of the community coming together in one place.

In addition to these gatherings, there are regular wellness activities by the water, such as yoga on Wednesdays and live music on weekends, which are open to the public. So, whether you feel like dressing up for a nice dinner or simply grabbing a burger, the promenade caters to all preferences, emphasising the importance of community and lifestyle integration.

Were sustainability measures or green building standards taken into consideration for the project?

One of the most exciting features of the building is the rooftop garden accessible only to tenants. Located on top of the podium, this garden is five storeys high and offers amenities such as a tennis court, basketball court, and kids play area. The lush landscaping creates a peaceful oasis in the middle of bustling Manama, with views of the nearby Four Seasons hotel.

Besides, landscaping is very important for us, as it is an integral part of our project. Not only is landscaping present within our development, but it also extends to the highways leading to our project. Through our collaboration with the municipality, we have planted medians along the surrounding highways, enhancing the visual appeal of one of the largest junctions in Manama. Even the previously undeveloped lands surrounding Bahrain Harbour have been transformed with landscaping, and we have also used solar lighting to illuminate the green spaces at night.

Building sustainable buildings in Bahrain continues to be a hurdle. Do you believe this is due to the perception that it is a costly endeavour when in reality it can result in cost savings?

If you look at green building standards such as LEED, it’s not made for this region and it doesn’t consider specific methods that are economical and effective, but you are awarded LEED points on many irrelevant components. For us, a certificate does not add value to the project. Our goal is to be ‘sustainable’ in its truest sense by implementing methods that reduce consumption. For example, we have opted to connect to a district cooling plant, despite the initial high cost, as it offers significant long-term savings compared to traditional methods.

Giving our users a sustainable lifestyle is more important to us than having a building system that is there only for a couple of LEED points. We are changing how pedestrian-friendly our downtown will be, which will have a bigger impact on the environment than anything we could have built. As a resident of this community, I can go five days without needing to use my car. I continue to go to work and dine out during this time, but I do not need to rely on my car for transportation in either case. No other development can say this so far.

On a concluding note, is there any specific message you would like to give our readers reading this interview?

We enjoy our work and take pride in the opportunity to be part of a project led by individuals dedicated to creating positive change and achieving excellence. Our decisions are driven by the desire to make a meaningful impact on people rather than just focusing on financial gains. We are replicating the sustainable lifestyle values we have applied here, to all our international projects as well. And last but not the least, at Infracorp, we prioritise human connections and this has translated into this project beautifully.