This year's Cityscape - the annual gathering of leading real estate figures in the UAE and beyond - seemed to attract an inordinate amount of attention from the international media, largely because the turbulent path of Dubai's real estate market has become one of the more prominent narratives of the global financial crisis.
And while last week's event may have been a much more subdued affair for Dubai developers, compared to last year's excesses, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) actually exhibited a higher profile than in years past, a sign of the emirate's gathering economic momentum.
Bereft of the glitzy launches and impressive project models that dominated the event during the boom years, this year the focus was on current - rather than new - projects. Within this context, RAK developers were able to showcase their raft of current undertakings in the property sector in a bid to heighten regional interest in the emirate.
Notably, RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA), Rakeen and Al Hamra Real Estate joined forces in a 400-sq-metre exhibition pavilion, the offerings of which spanned residential, commercial, industrial and touristic segments of the property industry. The tripartite group also featured in a seminar entitled "RAK: Emerging Emirate on the Move."
RAK's presence at the event was indeed more pronounced in 2009 than in previous years despite difficult economic conditions, reflecting the emirate's ambitious designs both domestically and abroad.
Besides several mixed-use projects, like Bab Al Bahr, the international scope of RAK developers' portfolio was exhibited.
Rakeen is heading up much of the international property investment, with projects marked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Iran and Armenia. Rakeen also joins the growing ranks of UAE investors in Lebanon, where renewed vigour in the real estate market has attracted $1.1bn of Emirati investment since 2008, according to a report by the Inter-Arab Investment Guarantee Corporation. In August, the development firm announced it had already begun sales at Beit Merri Sunset - the firm's first development in Lebanon, comprising of 10 villas and nine apartments. It is expected to be completed within two years.
Another project, the Al Hamra Village Development, which began handing over residential units earlier this year, was displayed to highlight tangible progress by developers. Such examples were important in a year marked by a considerable degree of uncertainty. This same climate of reassurance continued after the Cityscape show, which concluded on October 8, with the announcement of several developments relating to prominent RAK-based projects.
After taking control of the financially troubled La Hoya Bay development last month, Rakeen representatives announced to the media on October 12th that they would soon begin work on formalising its status as project custodian. RAK courts awarded custodianship to Rakeen in a September decision after the original developer, Khoie Properties, was unable to deliver on promises to investors. The decision sparked a sigh of relief from stakeholders in the $800m project, and clearly identified the government as an active and committed supporter of investor rights.
In a further show of market adjustment, Rakeen recently announced that it is reworking its international investment profile, putting projects in Kyrgyzstan on hold while it studies the master plan in light of changed economic circumstances.
RAK Properties has also put certain aspects of the DH12bn ($3.3bn) Mina Al Arab development on the back burner. Speaking to the media on October 12, the CEO of RAK Properties, Mohammed Sultan Al Qathi, indicated that the original plans were being altered - at least until market conditions improve. Meanwhile the CEO of RAKIA, Dr Khater Massaad, sought to clarify any uncertainties surrounding the market, announcing to local media after the Cityscape show that no projects in RAK have been cancelled as a result of the global financial crisis.
"Although some developers had some difficulties," he said. "We have not received any notice for project cancellations."
For projects like Dana Island and Gateway City, where investor solvency has emerged as a concern, RAKIA has offered investors a chance to consolidate in order to meet payments.
The emirate's demonstration of flexibility towards investor and developer concerns is certainly an important step to restoring market confidence. And while RAK was not hit as hard by the crisis as some of its neighbours - residential sale prices remained steady over the first half of 2009, according to OBG research - challenges certainly remain.
Global Arab Network
This article is published in partnership with Oxford Business Group