• DIFC plans to triple in size by 2024
  • Strategy involves developing business with Asia
  • New projects include an office building and a retail spine

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is looking east for growth as it plans to triple in size by 2024.

“Our plan is to triple the size of DIFC,” said Essa Kazim, governor of the DIFC, speaking at a media briefing in Dubai on 10 June.

Kazim said this involves growing the number of companies, number of people working at DIFC, and the amount of property. “The ambition is to triple everything,” he said.

The DIFC expects its future growth to come from three key areas. The largest, which will account for 50 per cent of its growth over the next decade, will come from Asia as part of what DIFC calls the South-South corridor.

The South-South corridor involves Dubai acting as a hub for this corridor that links the emerging economies of South Asia, Asia Pacific, Africa and South America. “This [South-South corridor] will be the focus of our 10-year strategy,” said Kazim. “The volumes of business are huge.”

Growth will also come from deepening the DIFC’s core activities, which will account for 30 per cent of the growth targeted for the next 10 years. To achieve this, there will be a push to encourage firms to do more back-office functions in the free zone rather than just maintaining a front-of-office presence.

“We will encourage current clients to do more of their activities in the DIFC,” said Kazim.

The third area for growth will come from building global relevance by targeting specialised sectors and developing the DIFC as a destination of choice for services such as asset management and family businesses from the Middle East region and South Asia.

The growth will require significant volumes of new office space. DIFC plans to have 1,000 financial firms working in the free zone by 2024 with a workforce of 50,000 people – a significant increase on the 362 firms in 2014 that employed 17,860 people.

To accommodate these people, the DIFC aims to have 5.5 million square feet (sq ft) of occupied space by 2024, up from 2.5 million sq ft in 2014. Much of this space will be developed directly by DIFC and will avoid the problems large financial instructions have in Dubai with strata title deeds in many of Dubai’s commercial buildings today.

“We will embark of developments under the umbrella of DIFC, as we did for the Gate [building] and the Gate Village,” said Kazim. Most of the plots will be developed by us, we know the needs and requirements of the clients that are attracted to us.”

DIFC will fund these projects itself. At the end of 2014 it had $184m for the development of two new projects. The first is the AED475m ($129m) new retail precinct known as the retail spine.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 10 June briefing Brett Schafer, DIFC Properties’ CEO, told MEED that the project management consultancy contract is being finalised and is due to be awarded by end of June. DIFC received bids from consultants to project manage the development in May.

The 14-month construction contract is due to be tendered in October with work starting on sire by the end of December this year. Completion is planned for the second quarter of 2017.

A AED200m office building is also planned. The eight-storey building will be built next to the existing Gate Village complex.

One other major project planned at DIFC is being developed by a joint venture of the local Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) and Canada’s Brookfield.

Known as ICD Brookfield Place, the project involves building a 50-storey office tower, with a hotel and retail outlets. It is understood that the UK’s Foster + Partners and US-based Aecom are among the consultants working on the project.

ICD and Brookfield formed a $500m real estate investment fund in 2013.

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