Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dubai residents hit out over JBR mall plans

DUBAI // Residents and local businesses are frustrated after hearing news of a mall opening along the beach of Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR).

Construction along Dubai's JBR Walk. Residents have expressed concerns about a plan to create many more shops.
Sammy Dallal / The National
JBR Dubai

Meraas Holding is set to construct a mall with shops and restaurants that will extend nearly a kilometre along the beach from the Hilton Hotel at one end to the Sheraton Hotel at the other.
The beachfront regularly attracts residents and tourists because of its leisure attractions, restaurants and walkways. Although Dubai Properties Group (DPG), the owner of JBR, promises that the new project will add value to the area, residents strongly disagree.
"It's a pretty stupid idea," said Joe Nicolas, who resides in the Al Bahar sector of JBR. "First of all, there's already Marina Mall, which is very close and always empty. Second, they are going to mess up the whole neighbourhood and no one is going to find a place to park."
The streets of JBR are heavily congested on weekend evenings. The one-way, two-lane street that leads from one end of JBR to the other is often backed up to the bridge leading to its entrance.
In addition to the traffic, parking was a particular concern for many residents.
"For us it's alright because we have parking in our buildings, but what happens to visitors who are not allowed to park there?" said Evguenia Demenko, from Russia.
Many businesses along the beachfront were not aware that a mall was opening across the street. Nor were they happy about the news.
"I really hope they've studied this well," said Wael Khodor, assistant manager at Il Caffe Di Roma. "If there's a mall it's going to be a disaster. It will get even more crowded and soon it's going to be a dead area."
Makeshift walls and fences block the view across most of the caf├ęs along the beachfront.
"View, what view?" Mr Khodor said. "All you can see is boards and construction."
Mohammed Selim Mohammed, manager of El Chico Mexican Restaurant, said the number of customers at his place has halved since Eid because of traffic.
"We had a customer who came in the other day saying he loves our food, but might stop coming because the traffic is so bad," he said. "If they're going to do this, I really hope that the property management will help us find a solution."
A few merchants were optimistic about the foot traffic a mall might drive to their stores.
"The more people we get, the more customers we'll have," said Maher Mrabet, assistant store manager of Tim Hortons. "If they can accommodate the parking needs, all of us can benefit from this."
DPG said the new development that is due for completion in less than 18 months would not drastically affect the area.
"During the construction phase, Meraas Holding - the developer of the project - has put plans in place to minimise inconvenience to the community and include additional temporary parking as well as traffic management," said a spokesman. "Residents and visitors will continue to have access to the beach through pedestrian crossings adjacent to the car park."
He said DPG was looking at strengthening the police presence at The Walk to assist pedestrians and to better manage the traffic.
As for JBR residents, DPG insisted the new project was planned so as to ensure that their sea views would not be blocked.
Dubai Traffic Police believe the addition to JBR Walk will make traffic worse.
With heavy traffic leading to blocked intersections and long waiting times near the beach, authorities said some staff could be relocated to the scene if necessary.
"The traffic in Dubai Marina in general is definitely worse than other areas," said Lt Imran Abdullah from Dubai Traffic Police. "There is traffic and congestion there every day and it will make it worse if there is an extra mall.
"There is already traffic police present in the Marina now and more than the usual because of the recent holidays. A lot of people have been complaining to us already because there are too many cars on JBR Walk."
Lt Abdullah said, however, that traffic police would have to wait until the project is complete before they could determine the scope of the problems and find solutions.
Residents are also concerned that a mall will reduce the value of their beachfront property.
"JBR was first marketed as a lifetime experience of luxury and relaxation with beautiful views of the beach," Mr Nicolas said. "Now it's turned into completely the opposite. I just don't understand why kill a beautiful beachfront for another mall."

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