Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH), a major live/work/play destination being built on the waterfront and at the heart of Manama, is now in its third phase of construction with third-developers building residential, leisure, hospitality, and office properties within the iconic Bahrain development, according to its top official.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf Construction, Alex Craine, CEO of Bahrain Financial Harbour indicates that a number of developments are currently taking shape on site.
“GFH Properties is developing Harbour Row and Harbour Heights with over 1,000 luxury apartments and townhouses, food and beverage (F&B), leisure and retail units at ground level - all directly beside the sea. In Harbour Row, they are developing a 160-key hotel with a roof-top pool and restaurants and bars. The operator is still to be selected. Two new public car parks are under construction to ensure that there is plenty of parking for visitors,” he explains.
Residents have already moved into the first deliveries at Harbour Row residential properties and the rest will be completed this year, he says, adding that the hotel is due to open during 2022.
Harbour Heights has already welcomed its first residents and the rest of this large mixed-use development will be delivered over the next couple of years.
“Another developer First Energy Bank is building its new headquarters, FEB Tower, which will comprise offices, 98 hotel apartments to be operated by Hilton under their upscale Conrad Residences brand and several F&B outlets,” he adds.
FEB Tower and the Conrad Residences are due to open before the end of 2022.
As the masterplan developer, Bahrain Financial Harbour Holding Company undertook the land reclamation, installed the infrastructure and now runs the district. It has undertaken the first stages of development of the mega mixed-use project which involved building Bahrain’s best business address with 100,000 sq m of Grade-A offices in the two, 52-storey Harbour Towers, waterside offices at Harbour House and 27,000 sq m of commercial and cultural mall space at Harbour Gate.
Its subsidiary Financial Center Development Company is the developer, owner and manager of Harbour Towers and Harbour Gate and has established these assets as Bahrain’s best business address.
The second phase of development saw the developer add a further 2,000 car-parking spaces and 19,000 sq m of offices with GBCORP Tower.
According to Craine, Bahrain Financial Harbour is evolving into one of Bahrain’s most popular dining and leisure destinations.
“Our easy accessibility, waterside location and plentiful parking will help the F&B scene thrive,” he remarks.
The first waterfront F&B outlet will open in Harbour Row and both of the under-construction hospitality offerings will have restaurants. Some of the F&B units will be licensed.
“We already have F&B units in Harbour Gate and we are in discussions to find the right concept for a fantastic unit in Harbour Towers with the best 360-degree views of the Arabian Gulf and Manama,” he indicates.
Commenting on some of unique selling points of Bahrain Financial Harbour, Craine says: “There are many selling points which can be summed up as quality in every aspect. Our offices are Grade-A, the apartments are luxury, the lifestyle options are exciting and the hospitality world-class. Being situated directly on the sea, the buildings have views of both the Arabian Gulf and central Manama.
“As well as being a national landmark, Bahrain Financial Harbour has an outstanding location adjacent to Bahrain Bay, the Diplomatic District and central Manama with direct access from King Faisal Highway and Bahrain Bay Road and a 15-minute drive both from Bahrain International Airport and King Fahad Causeway.”
In terms of infrastructure, Bahrain Financial Harbour receives power from two sub-stations giving robust redundancy; it features district cooling to optimise development costs and environmental impact and excellent parking with 7,750 spaces across the development, he adds.
As the new CEO of the company, Craine has a well-thought-out strategy to drive the company’s growth and its vision.
He comments: “One of our challenges is communication with the market. We need to ensure that people understand what Bahrain Financial Harbour is today; a welcoming, vibrant, accessible district where any company can thrive, where you can have a unique residential experience and where you can enjoy your leisure time.
“My immediate focus has been on securing more high-class F&B and leisure concepts within Harbour Towers and Harbour Gate to complement the new phases of Bahrain Financial Harbour; we will have some exciting announcements over the next few weeks in this regard.
“We are also reaching out to a broader section of the office leasing market with the message that Bahrain Financial Harbour is a home for every type of business. Some people believe that this is a place just for banking and finance but that sector makes up only 40 per cent of our leased space, most of our occupiers are not in finance but in technology, consulting, trading, infrastructure, real estate… the list goes on. The robust infrastructure and efficient floor plates that make us attractive to financial sector occupiers also have a broad appeal in the market.
“I am keen that we retain our place as a market leader in Bahrain and, to this end, we are exploring options to make Bahrain Financial Harbour more sustainable. We have already implemented a number of energy efficiency measures and we are looking at renewable energy options for our operations.”
Craine comes to BFH with 11 years of consultancy experience in the Middle East and 20 years in Europe, working for landlords and for corporate occupiers.
“I am detail-oriented and have an operational background that helps ensure that the services that we provide at Bahrain Financial Harbour are the very best and are delivered with value-for–money. My time as a consultant also gives me a keen focus on customer care. I really enjoy the way of doing business in Bahrain; the business community is very professional, open, welcoming and easy to work with. Business-friendly Bahrain is the reality, not just a catch-phrase,” he comments.
Craine believes it is a great time to be in real estate in Bahrain.
“The levels of speculative development are far more realistic than elsewhere in the GCC with a much stronger link to actual demand. I see a lot of very sensibly designed new schemes around the kingdom.
“We have reached the stage in the pandemic where most companies now have a workplace strategy for the next 12 to 24 months; more and more people are returning to the office now and companies are committing to new or renewed leases.
“Bahrain Financial Harbour, and especially Harbour Towers, is benefiting from a trend we are seeing, not just in Bahrain, but in other office markets around the world; a flight to quality. Grade-A office space is affordable so it is an opportunity for companies to consolidate their space into premier buildings. We have welcomed several new occupiers this year who are clearly upgrading to Harbour Towers,” he indicates.
Bahrain’s core strengths, he says, continue to make it an appealing destination for foreign companies and workers for a number of reasons: the affordability of telecommunications services relative to other GCC markets; the robustness of transport infrastructure, now further strengthened with the opening of the new airport terminal; and the government’s openness and sound regulatory framework.
“Bahrain is also home to a highly skilled, hardworking and multi-lingual local workforce. Moreover, the country offers a pleasant living experience for families, with quality education for children through various international curricula. All of this creates a healthy outlook for real estate,” he remarks.
Craine is also Chairman of EFS Facilities Services Bahrain, which was originally established as a joint venture (JV) to provide world-class facility management (FM) services at Bahrain Financial Harbour. The district now represents less than 20 per cent of the company’s turnover as other occupiers and owners of premier real estate in Bahrain have brought it onboard to deliver the best FM services in the market, he adds.