CEO says Smart City will be occupied

MEDIA ROOM

When the first phase of Smart City Malta is inaugurated on time on October 10, the 12,000 square metres of office space will not be fully occupied, chief executive officer Fareed Abdulrahman told The Sunday Times last week.

The first clients are lined up to move into the Ricasoli self-sustained knowledge community, Mr Abdulrahman said, adding tenants will make sole announcements or jointly with Smart City Malta over the next few weeks.

“It is very important for us to mark Phase 1 being on track on October 10,” the chief executive answered when asked about the inauguration day and the status of the project at that stage. “We want to showcase our infrastructure. We are sure that everyone will notice the difference in the roads, the planning, the construction methods. The announcements (by clients) can happen from now to October. We will move in first and then receive our anchor tenant and hand over its unit.”

It is exactly 11 weeks to the highly anticipated day and Smart City has yet to name a single tenant for the first phase of the €208 million project, officially or otherwise. All week, Mr Abdulrahman has spent much of his time reassuring the press in a series of interviews.

“The clients are there,” he reassured The Sunday Times. “The only challenge we have today is the economy. Before, it used to take a company three months to make a decision. The decision-making process has now become very long.”

Mr Abdulrahman pointed out that as Smart City Malta was the first of its kind in Malta – and possibly in Europe – it was a challenging project to market. He was adamant it will be “300 times” easier to market after October 10 when clients will see and believe. Still, he maintained, Smart City was not after quantity of clients, but quality.

The young chief executive’s confidence has not diminished since his last series of interviews in October. Asked whether he was confident Smart City Malta would generate the promised 5,600 jobs last year, he had replied: “Yes, one hundred times confident.” On Thursday, his answer to the same question was: “Do you know that is my least concern?”

He explained how a recent month-long campaign at Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City to promote Malta as a stepping stone to the European Union and North Africa caused a wave of interest. In spite of conferences, networking events and presentations being staged at the heart of the internet community, 90 per cent of the interest was generated unexpectedly from “big players” in the media cluster.

Mr Abdulrahman produced a copy of a recruitment advertisement carried in The Times to prove his point: A US software company with arms in Dubai seeking Maltese candidates who would be trained in Dubai for six months and later based at the Malta office.

Mr Abdulrahman said other organisations were keen to consolidate all their European offices in Malta and others still were considering a relocation of entire operations here.

“We will help them with human resources,” he stressed. “Smart City Malta will be the place where people will come to head hunt. It happened in Dubai. It will happen here. Head hunting happens all the time in any cluster.”

The much-touted project only began to produce signs of real progress on site in the past few months, which Mr Abdulrahman attributes to state-of-the-art, rapid construction methods and extensive tunnelling work below ground. Sceptical commentators have often dismissed Smart City Malta as another office block project earmarked for speculators.

“We do not look at Smart City as offices or blocks of buildings at all,” Mr Abdulrahman responded. “If it were just about constructing buildings, we would have built anything. We would not have gone out in search of the finest limestone to wrap the blocks, we would have just painted them. We would not have engaged the best landscapers and architects.”

Smart City Malta was about knowledge workers and then companies, he stressed. It was a community development that stood for services, sustainability, and environment-friendliness – much is hinged on the project’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a first for Malta.

There are 80 to 100 construction workers on site – who had nothing to do with the 5,600 jobs – and several were involved in levelling the site in preparation for the development of the rest of the project. Interior finishes are currently being made to the lobby of the new Smart City management and sales offices in SCM 01, while top officials prepare to issue tenders for the next four structures announced on June 27. Mr Abdulrahman said the company aimed to begin to mobilise contractors as soon as possible after planning authorities grant permission. The completed phase and the road leading to it will be amply sheltered from the construction taking place around them.

Smart City Malta, together with all the business parks in Smart City family, now fall wholly under Tecom Investments, the major investor in the Malta project and in Go plc. Tecom Investment’s parent, Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, had its credit rating downgraded by Moody’s for the second time in seven months earlier this month.

Mr Abdulrahman said Dubai Holding’s verticals were being restructured, hence Smart City’s move to Tecom’s umbrella.

“Nowhere in the press has Tecom ever been criticised,” he pointed out, shaking off any concern about Smart City’s financial health. “Smart City is financed with 100 per cent equity.”

In Dubai, he added, where confidence was on the rise again, tenants at the group’s Internet City and Media City were in “wait and see mode”. They were particularly waiting to see other organisations’ experience of Smart City Malta.

“We have to be so careful,” he warned. “We have a saying in Arabic that you cannot clap with one hand. Everybody has to work together to make (Smart City Malta) happen.”

One day, he half-joked, brimming with his trademark confidence, people will rebuke Smart City Malta for not building towers.