In a list of the most desirable and luxurious places to live around the world, the emirate of Ajman would rarely come top of any ranking.
But all that could change with the official launch yesterday of a Dh220 billion coastal city – Al Zorah – that will breathe new life into the area and attract a wave of unprecedented investment.
The vast development, stretching over more than 22 million square metres of Ajman, will include more than 16km of beachfront home and offices – and will increase the emirate's waterfront by three kilometres. It will also include picturesque creeks and interconnected islands housing "villages" and neighbourhood facilities.
The coastal city will be developed by Al Zorah Development Company, a joint venture between Ajman and the Lebanese firm Solidere International.
Located along Ajman's beachfront and creek, Al Zorah will be a self-contained, master-planned city of residences, offices, retail, schools, hospitals and leisure facilities, including marinas and five-star resort hotels.
The first phase will be ready in 30 months, with the entire project completed in 15 years, said a spokesman.
"Al Zorah is a milestone for Ajman, reflecting the combination of tradition and innovation that distinguishes the emirate," Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Chairman of Al Zorah Development Company, said yesterday at the groundbreaking.
"Already a sought-after destination for high-value investors, who are drawn by its business-friendly regulations and relatively open marketplace, Ajman is entering a new chapter in its development. Al Zorah is a truly spectacular project that will become an international destination," he said.
Almost five years after the plan was first proposed, Ajman authorities yesterday held the groundbreaking.
Final details of Al Zorah show it is far bigger than the original announcement in January 2007. And the original budget for the project, then named Downtown Ajman, has increased by more than 300 per cent from Dh50 billion originally earmarked to be spent on developing 10 million square metres of land.
More than 200,000 people are expected to live and work in Al Zorah and transform the coastline into a sustainable residential, business and leisure community.
"We are not trying to replicate other projects, but the idea behind Al Zorah is to have our own identity, which will make us stand out from other emirates. What we are trying to do is to have a remarkable project, which will attract not only individuals, but investors and companies, alike," said Sheikh Humaid.
A new 8.5km access route will link the development to Emirates Road.
Developers said it will reflect the emirate's "natural beauty, both by maximising green space within the community and by adapting itself to the surrounding mangrove plantations and other natural elements".
On its coast will be a crescent-shaped bay, part of the 16km of beachfront – including three kilometres of original beach, creeks and islands.
Residences will be located in waterfront "villages" and residents will be encouraged to get to know their new community through public squares and pedestrian areas, which will include cafés, retail and open spaces.
Cultural, entertainment and leisure facilities, including a championship golf course, equestrian centre and five public marinas, are all part of the master plan.
Solidere International is partly owned by Solidere, the firm carrying out the reconstruction of Beirut City Centre, considered one of the most challenging urban renewal projects in history.
Chairman and Chief Executive Nasser Chammaa said the company, in all its developments, was committed to working within context and building on the strengths of a particular environment – natural or urban.
He said: "Al Zorah combines both natural and urban environments in one; it is an ambitious project, intended to transform Ajman into one of the region's most sought-after places to live and work in an urban environment, which also ensures energy conservation and sustainability for future generations. It is suited to Solidere's community-focused development approach."
The development will incorporate environmentally friendly design and energy-efficient infrastructure.
It will be a sustainable development that will use building aspect, maximum shade, energy efficient building materials and modern construction methods to cut energy use by up to 50 per cent. Imad Dana, CEO of Al Zorah Development Company, said: "This land is alive with nature. This natural beauty is central to Ajman's appeal, but so too is its rich culture. Al Zorah, supported by the know-how and collaboration of Solidere International, will reflect Ajman's cultural and natural heritage, and express the emirate's spirit of innovation. It will be appealing to investors after the Government of Ajman issued a special decree giving Al Zorah both freezone and freehold status.
"By adapting best practices in environmentally friendly design and energy-efficient infrastructure, Al Zorah will keep its ecological footprint to a minimum; the use of shade and energy-efficient construction and materials is expected to significantly limit the use of energy," he added.
The sustainable initiatives include preservation of the natural environment that includes, 30 species of mangroves, more than 20 species of birds, countless coastal fish, trees and sand dunes.
The new city in the emirate will encourage people to leave their cars at home with an integrated network of walkways, canals, waterways, bicycle paths and public transport facilities.
- Al Zorah is jointly owned by the Government of Ajman and Solidere International, in a 50-50 share split
- The Dh220-billion freehold mixed-use development of the same name will be built on an area of 22 million square metres, and will include large areas of water and green public spaces
- Built as a sustainable development, it will use maximum shade, energy-efficient building materials and modern construction methods to reduce energy use by 50 per cent
- With room for an estimated 200,000 residents, Al Zorah will be a city consisting of offices, residences, schools, clinics and leisure facilities
- More than 50 per cent of the buildings will be residential, 22 per cent office space, 11 per cent will be retail stores and hotels will make up eight per cent
- The remaining seven per cent will consist of warehousing, storage and infrastructure. For leisure, the project will consist of 16km of beaches, an 18-hole golf course, five marinas, hotels, a 200,000-square-metre mall, an equestrian centre, jogging and horse tracks and three schools
- Linked to Emirates Road, Al Zorah development project is a 20-minute drive from Dubai International Airport and a 10 minute drive from Sharjah Airport