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Abu Dhabi's new super mall: Build it and they will come?

updated 9:10 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
At first glance, it could be fantastical spaceship. In fact, this is Abu Dhabi's newest shopping complex -- Yas Mall. At first glance, it could be fantastical spaceship. In fact, this is Abu Dhabi's newest shopping complex -- Yas Mall.
Futuristic design
Big ambition
Middle east marvel
Island life
Finishing touches
  • Step inside Yas Mall, the UAE's new super mall, due to open Nov
  • Abu Dhabi complex hopes to attract 20 million shoppers in first year
  • Part of $40b Yas Island entertainment center, including F1 circuit
  • Developers Aldar Properties hope to bounce back from billions in debt

(CNN) -- On a man-made island in the Middle East, the world's newest super mall sits empty -- for now.

Inside, water fountains shoot into the air, giant plasma screens flash advertisements, escalators rise and fall; their only admirers are the odd construction worker.

Missing from this scene are the shoppers.

But come November, Abu Dhabi's 235,000 square meter Yas Mall plans to open its doors to 20 million visitors per year.

A view to die for: Dubai time-lapse

"It's a conservative estimate," says Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, CEO of Aldar Properties, the developers behind the ambitious design.

Think big

With over 400 stores, Yas Mall will be the second largest shopping complex in the United Arab Emirates, developers hoping it will emulate the success of neighboring Dubai Mall -- double the size at 502,000 square meters.

"Over the last five years, the growth of both Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates has been immense," explained Al Mubarak. "They've both become destinations in themselves.

"Abu Dhabi does not have that sort of destination here, it does not have that visitor experience. It needs that, it's hungry for it, and Yas Mall is hopefully going to cater to that hunger."

Island living

The plush shopping center is the latest addition to Yas Island, a purpose-built $40 billion holiday destination rising off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

Opened in 2009, the island boasts a Formula One circuit, water park, and "Ferrari World" with the fastest roller coaster on the planet.

We couldn't fit all the retailers we wanted to be here, so we're already starting to plan phase two
Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, CEO of Aldar Properties

If shoppers are as "hungry," as Al Mubarak says, then Abu Dhabi is working hard to feed them. Last year the city was ranked 18th in the world in terms of new retail space.

And before consumers have even stepped inside Yas Mall, Al Mubarak is already talking expansion.

"We couldn't fit all the retailers we wanted to be here, so we're already starting to plan phase two," he said.

"Abu Dhabi is a growing city. It's growing in its developments, it's growing in its demographics. And we are catering our retail for each aspect."

Smooth sailing?

This phenomenal growth hasn't been without losses. Aldar was 13.7billion dirhams (U.S. $3.7 billion) in debt last year, later merging with rival Sorouh Real Estate.

"We continue to manage our debt to the best of our abilities, and we continue to be a development company," said Al Mubarak.

Come November, these shop fronts will be open to the public.

"Over the last year we've launched two major projects that had been completely sold out. But we have developed in a mature, professional manner."

As the finishing touches are made at Yas Mall, we'll soon find out if the island's latest addition sinks or swims.

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