Making sense of Saadiyat Island

By Orlando Crowcroft, Business News Editor  www.gulfnews.com

Dubai: It is now March, but only now is Shaun O’Connor, chief financial officer of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), ready to flick the calendar to 2012.

    *  Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News     * Construction on TDIC projects continues at Sadiyaat Island in Abu Dhabi. The re-launch of the three Saadiyat Island museums has curbed speculation about the future of the island.

* Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News * Construction on TDIC projects continues at Sadiyaat Island in Abu Dhabi. The re-launch of the three Saadiyat Island museums has curbed speculation about the future of the island.

O’Connor, manning the books at TDIC for just nine months, has spent the past few weeks putting the finishing touches to the state-owned developer’s first-ever public annual results. And, he tells Gulf News, TDIC is well placed for the year ahead.

“It’s been a spectacular year, unbelievable for delivery for the company, results exceeded expectations and 2012 is shaping up to be an absolutely spectacular year,” he says.

With total assets of Dh14.5 billion, TDIC will see the delivery of four major residential projects in 2012, standing the developer in good stead for its looming $2 billion (Dh7.35 billion) of bonds due in 2014. “It takes a lot of the pressure off,” O’Connor says.

Meanwhile, the re-launch of the three Saadiyat Island museums — the Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National — has curbed speculation about the future of the island.

GULF NEWS: What was the logic between the new schedule for the three museums?

Shaun O’Connor: The original strategy was to bring all three on simultaneously in 2014, but the new schedule allows each one to come into their own.

So the Louvre Abu Dhabi gets a chance to open, experience a year as a single operating museum, lets us pull in the tourist traffic and let it settle down from an operations perspective before we open the Zayed National Museum, then it opens up and has the same time frame. Then we build Guggenheim.

I can now bring the same tourists to the region three times. Under the original plan, a tourist could come once and from a cultural perspective they wouldn’t have had a need to come back for quite a while.

Is it fair to say that financing was an issue too?

The government of Abu Dhabi does not have fin-ancing issues. That’s a nice statement to make, and there are not a lot of places in the world that are able to make that.

It was a strategic decision by the government on when it made sense to bring these to the market place.

What about the other museums that are planned, the performing arts and the maritime museum?

They are still part of our long term plan, they are not in the next five years of development as it stands today. For us it is more important to focus on the three iconic museums and get them open and operating and stabilised. The government may ask us to bring forward one of those, and if they do we have the capacity to deliver.

There have been different figures bandied around about the cost of these museums, could you give us an idea of the final cost?

I know, but I am not disclosing.

We have a very good idea of what those museums will cost, and that was part of what we took forward to the government, it’s just not a number we’re disclosing.

TDIC was always envisaged as a body that was supposed to operate on its own without being financed. Given the government funding for the museums, is this still the intention?

TDIC operates today on its own, the financing we get from the government is to build very specific projects.

If the government wants us to build a bridge, for example, it pays for that asset and we turn it over to the government to own and operate.

Our job is, for lack of a better term, a ‘merchant builder’ on those projects. The cash flow we get from our operating properties, from the sales and leasing of the buildings that we have built that are commercially based, fund the operations of TDIC.

The museums were never intended to be TDIC operated, these were always government-owned, absolutely iconic structures… Our job is to build them.

Making sense of Saadiyat Island

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