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Rendering of redeveloped Musheireb district

QFC/Twitter

Rendering of redeveloped Msheireb district

Farewell, West Bay.

Doha’s under-construction Msheireb district is now aiming to become a new financial and business center for Qatar, with the first firms expected to move in next summer.

The announcement was made yesterday after Qatar Financial Center (QFC) said that all new companies who register with it will work on the site.

That will include both local and international organizations, it added.

Phased move

QFC is a Doha-based onshore business and financial center that has its own legal, regulatory, tax and business rules.

These include allowing firms to be wholly foreign-owned and to repatriate all of their profits.

Currently, existing companies registered with the QFC will not be required to move, the organization said.

But the center’s main office relocation will take place in phases over the next three years starting from summer 2017, QFC’s chief executive said.

Changing West Bay

If all of QRC’s firms opt to move, West Bay is going to become a lot less crowded in the coming years.

Some 300 companies – including banks, law firms, accountancy firms, management consultants and media/PR agencies – are currently registered with QFC, according to its website.

These are based in more than 45 designated premises across Doha, including the two QFC towers in Dafna/West Bay and several other high-profile locations there.

Doha's West Bay

Lesley Walker

Doha\’s West Bay

The West Bay area has become increasingly congested in recent years and parking spaces come at a premium, which can cause problems for visitors to offices in the area.

As a result, Qatar’s authorities have been taking steps to encourage firms to set up in other areas.

For example, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC) and Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) have moved from their previous West Bay offices to Lusail City, which is still being built.

Doha Metro rendering

Qatar Rail

Doha Metro rendering

And those who shift to downtown will be able to use the Musheireb station, the main stop for the new Doha Metro, to get to the work.

However, the first phase of this is not expected to open to passengers until early 2020.

Additionally, there will be a total of 10,000 underground car parking spaces for the whole Msheireb Downtown Doha site.

Move timeline

The new Msheireb business district will also house non-QFC companies in around 100 buildings.

Rendering of redeveloped Msheireb Doha Downtown

Msheireb Properties

Rendering of redeveloped Msheireb Doha Downtown

The plan for the new downtown area, which is being developed by real estate firm Msheireb Properties, is akin to London’s Canary Wharf. It combines commercial, residential, retail and cultural entities in one complex.

The first companies – newly registered QFC firms – will start moving into the district next summer.

Organizations that are already registered and have offices elsewhere in the country can relocate in phases over the following two to three years.

In a statement, QFC said:

“Following the QFC’s relocation and move of QFC firms, other QFC entities including the Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority, the Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Center and the Qatar Finance and Business Academy will relocate as well. Their relocation is expected to be complete in 2019.”

The creation of the new business area is part of Qatar’s economic diversification from its reliance on hydrocarbons, QFC’s chief executive Yousuf Mohamed Al-Jaida said.

Msheireb development

The old Musheireb neighborhood traditionally housed hundreds of small businesses and shops.

Many of the shopping and residential complexes were demolished several years ago to allow for the total reconstruction and modernization of the district.

It is being built in phases, although some deadlines have been missed.

According to Msheireb Properties CEO Abdullah Hassan al-Mehshadi, work on the first three phases of the development is “80 percent complete.”

He told Gulf Times that the company is working with Qatar Rail on the fourth phase.

Qatar Academy Msheireb Building in Msheireb Downtown Doha project

Msheireb Properties

Qatar Academy Msheireb Building in Msheireb Downtown Doha project

So far, the development houses one school – Qatar Academy Msheireb, which opened its doors last September.

And last summer, Msheireb Properties announced that its first commercial tenant in its Al Baraha district would be the International Center for Sport Security (ICSS), which is also part of the QF stable.

Offerings

When finished, the entire Downtown Doha project will include shops and a cultural forum that features two art house cinemas and a performing arts theater.

In addition to the 100 commercial and government buildings, Msheireb will have 900 houses and apartments, eventually accommodating a residential population of 2,600 people.

There is also a mosque, a museum and 120,000 square meters of parks and open space.

Rendering of Msheireb's Al Baraha area

Msheireb Properties/Facebook

Rendering of Msheireb’s Al Baraha area

Additionally, there will be four hotels, including a Mandarin Oriental which is set to open this year and a Park Hyatt.

In the heritage quarter, next to the Emiri Diwan, government buildings include the National Archive, four restored houses that comprise Msheireb Museums and Eid prayer ground.

These are across from Al Koot Fort near Souq Waqif and first opened in 2014.

Thoughts?

Msheireb construction site.

Msheireb / Facebook

Msheireb construction site.

In a rare work stoppage, several hundred men at the Msheireb Downtown Doha construction site went on strike over the weekend and continue to remain off the job in a dispute over unpaid wages, a labor representative has said.

The employer, subcontractor Drake & Scull, told Doha News that the issue stemmed from a one-time delay in paying salaries because of new requirements under Qatar’s wage protection system.

Witnesses told Doha News that between 200 and 400 men stopped working at approximately 7am on Saturday. While most described the incident as a peaceful protest, others said some individuals aggressively confronted their supervisors.

Some men smashed air conditioning units and broke doors, said a Qatar-based representative of Building and Wood Worker’s International (BWI) – a trade union umbrella organization – who spoke to more than a half-dozen Drake & Scull employees who were involved in the protest.

The labor representative said the police were called in and helped mediate a temporary solution with managers by having the construction workers return to their accommodation in the Industrial Area.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He said the workers – who hail from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines – were told they would be paid by Thursday and are receiving food at their labor camp since many have run out of money to purchase their own provisions.

During previous visits to Qatar, BWI officials visited Msheireb as well as other sites. At the time, delegates said during a press conference that they were generally pleased with what they saw at Msheireb but found a “disturbing evidence of wrong practices” and a general “climate of fear” among migrant workers in Qatar.

More recently, BWI published an article on its website this month about the formation of several “support networks” for migrant workers in Qatar.

Strikes

Strikes – especially those involving a larger number of workers – are uncommon in Qatar, where authorities are highly sensitive to dissent among its large foreign workforce.

They have previously responded to protests with a show of force, such as at a short-lived riot at the under-renovation Sheraton Hotel in June 2014.

Riot police arrive in buses to the Sheraton Hotel.

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Riot police arrive in buses to the Sheraton Hotel.

A handful of other work stoppages occurred that year, including a protest by Al Million taxi drivers and a strike by employees of two subcontracting firms that led to the deportation of some 100 construction workers.

This risk of punishment means a strike “is often a last resort” for expats in Qatar, Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.

Meanwhile, questions remain about whether the workers involved in this weekend’s strike will be disciplined.

“Their assumption is that (they will be paid) and be deported,” the BWI representative said.

In a statement to Doha News, Msheireb Properties confirmed that the incident caused work to be temporarily suspended on a small part of the 76.6-acre site on Saturday and Sunday.

The company added that while the strike did not involve any workers directly employed by the developer, the firm is working with its contractors to resolve the dispute.

Unpaid wages

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Lesley Walker

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Delayed or unpaid wages are one of the most common complaints of blue-collar expats in Qatar, whose treatment has come under scrutiny as the country constructs stadiums, infrastructure and real estate developments in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

However, Drake & Scull said this incident was an anomaly for the company caused by the new wage protection system, which took effect earlier this month and requires employers to pay their workers electronically. It also mandates firms create a digital record of the payments.

In a statement, the company – which has operations across the Middle East and further afield – told Doha News:

“The integration of workers’ records into the system faced certain technical issues and incompatibilities which resulted in a delay of the transfer of payments…

Drake & Scull management engaged with the workers to address their concerns immediately. The delay in payments was an unanticipated and unprecedented occurrence for Drake & Scull Qatar and we have taken the necessary steps to prevent such a situation from arising in the future.”

How long the workers went without a paycheck is still in dispute.

The BWI representative said the men he spoke to were being paid QR1,600 monthly, which includes a food allowance.

Msheireb Properties is a part of Qatar Foundation, which has published minimum worker welfare standards that require its contractors to go beyond what’s set out in the law. The company said it is investigating the incident and has already met with the main contractor and subcontractor to identify how the dispute arose:

“Msheireb Properties is working closely with parties involved to ensure that this situation is resolved as soon as possible and in a satisfactory manner,” it said, adding that it contractually requires all contractors and suppliers to abide by Qatar’s laws.

“Msheireb Properties is taking this incident seriously and is firmly committed to stand against any form of exploitation, abuse or injustice.”

Thoughts?

Msheireb Museums

Msheireb Properties

Msheireb Museums

As part of the ongoing redevelopment of the nation’s downtown Musheireb district, four historical buildings have been restored into museums that chart the changing face of Qatar.

The Msheireb Museums are situated in the first phase of what will be the Heritage Quarter of Msheireb Properties’ huge QR20 billion (US$5.5 billion), 310,000 sq m development.

Sheikha Moza

UN Geneva/Flickr

Sheikha Moza

They were officially opened yesterday by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, which is the parent group of Msheireb Properties.

“Today Msheireb Downtown Doha enters a new chapter in its history, through which it will inspire young minds of the future with the wisdom and beauty of our past. With the opening of these museums, Msheireb reaches a milestone in fulfilling its vision of maintaining our unique architectural identity in Qatar, in a location that is set to be the vibrant heart of our capital,” Sheikha Moza said.

Since the cultural project was first announced in 2011, the four historical buildings – Bin Jelmood House, Company House, Mohamed bin Jassim House and Radwani House – have been preserved and restored on the site by teams of local and international experts.

Msheireb Museums restoration

McAsland + Partners

Msheireb Museums restoration

Materials that retain the spirit and building techniques of the original structure have been used in the restoration, Msheireb Properties said in a statement.

The museums’ launch falls behind its originally scheduled opening date of December 2013, a deadline that was then pushed back to late 2014.

A spokesperson for Msheireb Properties declined to comment to Doha News on the apparent delays, but according to the project’s website, the date was pushed back at least in part due to an off-site fire that damaged exhibition materials and other works.

Though the museums are not yet fully open to the public, visits of groups of 10 or more people are being conducted from Sunday to Thursday, between 8:30am and 2:30pm. Tours are free, and slots can be reserved by calling 800 3642.

The museums

The buildings all date from the early part of last century, and are just over 100 years old.

Msheireb Museums

Msheireb Properties

Msheireb Museums

Fully restored, they chart the economic history of Qatar through the early days of oil exploration, as well as the social and cultural developments that have taken place. When completed at an unspecified time, they will have cafes and restaurants.

Bin Jelmood House charts the history of the global slave trade, particularly in the Indian Ocean region, and the changes caused by its abolition.

“Visitors will travel back in time to discover how enslavement spread with the march of civilizations over thousands of years. The museum provides space for reflection on the emotional journey through the story of universal enslavement. It also provides an opportunity for visitors to make a personal commitment to joining the fight against human trafficking in all its many manifestations,” Msheireb Properties said.

Meanwhile, the former headquarters of Qatar’s first oil company, Company House, tells the story of the pioneering petroleum industry workers and their families whose work helped to transform Qatar.

Exhibits include first-hand accounts from the Qatari men involved in the early days of the oil era, through the challenges of World War II and beyond.

Msheireb Museums

Msheireb Properties

Msheireb Museums

The third museum, Mohammed Bin Jassim House was built by the son of the founder of the state of Qatar and its reconstruction focuses on the past, present and sustainable elements of the vast Msheireb site. It also houses the Echo Memory Art Project using objects uncovered during demolition of the site.

Additionally, the museum showcases the changes to the old district, describing how the narrow sikka alleyways were created as houses were built on either side, and how they converged onto a baraha, an open-air town square.

Finally, visitors to Radwani House, which was first built in the 1920s, can see how everyday family life in Qatar has evolved over the centuries, through pivotal moments such as the discovery of oil and the arrival of electricity.

Excavation works there marked the first archaeological digs in the center of the city and produced important finds that provide clues to the daily life during those times.

Wider development

The regeneration of one of Doha’s old commercial centers is being undertaken in stages, to eventually create 100 commercial buildings, 900 residential units for 2,600 people, 10,255 car parking spaces and the space to host 60,000 guests.

The museums are part of Phase 1A of the downtown project. That phase focuses on civic and heritage sites, and will also include the Emiri Diwan Annex, residences to the Amiri Guard and the Qatar National Archive, according to Msheireb Properties’ website.

Msheireb Downtown Doha prayer ground

Msheireb Downtown Doha

Msheireb Downtown Doha prayer ground

The Eid prayer ground, which opened in September last year, is also a key part of the heritage quarter, and the 3,200-square-meter facility has a capacity for 3,612 people.

Qatar Academy Msheireb became the first building in the development to formally open when it began teaching students last month.

The dual-language English and Arabic school has a 12,754 sq m campus and can accommodate up to 450 pupils. It is the fifth branch of the QF-run Qatar Academy chain, whose private, non-profit schools cater to pre-school, primary and high school students.

In July, Msheireb Properties announced that its first commercial tenant in its Al Baraha district would be the International Center for Sport Security (ICSS), which is also part of the QF stable, but construction is still ongoing on this site and it is not yet operational.

ICSS

Msheireb Properties

ICSS

The developer has been unwilling to predict opening dates for the numerous projects, citing the “scale and complexity” of the site.

Other facilities are set to include four hotels, including a Mandarin Oriental, which is due to open next year, and a Park Hyatt Hotel. There will also be shops and a cultural forum featuring two art house cinemas and a performing arts theater, as well as space for public art exhibitions, music and fine art lessons.

Thoughts?