Work to start on major Sharjah research park in August

Construction work on the first phase of a major new science park in Sharjah is due to get under way in August, with the first buildings set to be delivered in early 2019, according to the head of the company overseeing the project.

Hussain Al Mahmoudi, the chief executive of AUS Enterprises, said infrastructure work started on site in April and is likely to complete in November.

“The main building we will start constructing this summer – some time in August – and we anticipate 18 months to conclude this,” said Mr Al Mahmoudi in an interview with The National.

Phase 1 of the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) Park will contain three, inter-linked buildings with a built-up area of about 50,000 to 60,000 square feet. This will house the park’s headquarters, laboratories and innovation centres. A hotel and convention centre may also be added as part of the first phase. Future phases include new villas, a technology museum and a centre of excellence.

Mr Al Mahmoudi said the RTI park was a key plank in the Sharjah’s Government’s shift towards a knowledge-based economy. Alongside a Dh10 levy on every government transaction above Dh50 that was introduced this year to support research initiatives, land has been granted for a 45-storey residential tower site on Al Majaz waterfront and for a school project both of which will provide an endowment for future development.

The American curriculum school is still in the concept stage, but designs for the tower are already under way and it is expected to be built “within the next couple of years”, said Mr Al Mahmoudi.

He said the RTI park will be attractive to participants and potential investors because it offers “some important basics” that do not exist elsewhere in the country.

“These basics are solid universities. That’s the challenge with other technology parks, because they don’t have strong universities next to them.”

The RTI Park sits next to Sharjah’s University City, “which holds more than 35,000 students, 2,000 PhDs, faculty, plus 17 educational institutions in one university city”. He said the two major universities, Sharjah University and American University of Sharjah, are undergoing a transformation from teaching universities to science and research-based institutions.

He also said the science park would be a free zone that aims to attract potential foreign direct investment by access to talent and potential funding for projects. Unusually, he added, university staff and students would also be allowed to own businesses and commercialise their work.

The technology park will focus on six main sectors – renewable energy, water, environmental, transport, digital and industrial technologies.

Craig Plumb, the head of research at JLL Mena, said of the science parks that have thrived elsewhere in the world, the most successful have been the ones those with strong links with universities.

“They’re not just real estate to house science and technology companies,” he said.

“There aren’t many science parks in this part of the world, but the closest thing you would get to them … a lot will have been developed as industrial estates like, for instance, Tecom, Internet City and Knowledge Village.”

He said part of the reason for this is that universities in general have focused on teaching as opposed to research, but there were examples – such as the Masdar Institute – where commercialisation of technology plays a more important role.

mfahy@thenational.ae