Bucking the regional trend of a general economic slowdown over the past 24 months, Nakheel has ‘experienced a stable past couple of years with some consolidation as well as focussed expansion particularly in retail and hospitality’, according to general counsel John Davidson. This success has been achieved on the back of a number of blockbuster transactions that have propelled it to the very top of its market sector, and Davidson recalls the legal team’s integral role to this: ‘Nakheel has embarked on an AED27bn hospitality and retail expansion in support of the Dubai Government’s vision for Dubai. In the space of the last two-to-three years, Nakheel has become the Middle East’s largest retail developer with 17.5 million square feet of leasable space across 19 projects.
As you can imagine, this has involved considerable legal work from financing the various projects, negotiating joint venture agreements (in some cases partnering with other local entities), to negotiating construction contracts and producing contracts for leasing and asset management of these malls’. In further evidence of the team’s ability to support multiple complex, high-value projects simultaneously, Davidson reports the company has also established a hotel portfolio of 18 hotels and serviced apartments with over 6,600 rooms, and is also responsible for the Deira Islands project off the coast of old Dubai, projects which ‘have all required significant investment and have generated significant legal work in negotiating various bank financing facilities’. The team’s success on these and other projects can be traced back to excellent individual contributions by all team members. However, Davidson provides some further detail on contributions that have gone above and beyond in the past two years: ‘The stand-out performer in the team is Hameed Almihdar who has been pivotal in providing outstanding legal – and, often, commercial – advice across the company’s entire business. Hameed has been involved in all aspects of our expansion over the last few years and has excelled in his work across all the work streams noted. Two other team members who have excelled are: senior legal counsel Dima Abdul-Hadi, whose work has focused mainly on advising our team on the structuring of our residential real estate projects – as well as leading the legal work on Nakheel’s very substantial residential and retail leasing portfolio; and legal consultant Tania Antoun, who is responsible for our very sizable and complex portfolio of litigation, much of it still legacy debt collection matters dating back to the global financial crisis’.