Unlike in Dubai, mall owners and developers in Sharjah are not rushing to build massive new projects to make full use of a resurgent retail sector. Instead, they are adding space at their existing properties — and extensions where they can — to telling effect. For Sharjah’s existing malls, the present, it seems, is about makeovers.
Sahara Centre,  an enduring destination over the years, has just gone through a major expansion phase, while Sharjah City Centre has set off on a Dh200 million mall renewal programme. The two properties represent a dominant share of the overall mall traffic in the emirate, which their managements are looking to enhance through the latest works. The benefits are already being seen.
“We have significantly increased traffic by 40 per cent through the expansion and enhanced offerings,” Akram Ammar, managing director of Sahara Centre, said. “With the GLA [gross leasable area] increasing by 60 per cent, we can now offer visitors more in terms of choices and services that have been the biggest draw to date. Sahara Centre has positioned itself as a ‘must-see’ destination in Sharjah.”
Timing has played its role. Sharjah’s residential space is witness to a sizeable influx of new residents , attracted by the wave of new high-rises coming into the market in the last 18-24 months. Occupancy levels at these are now running at higher than 70-80 per cent. Plus, Dubai’s residential rental spikes have been another factor in increasing the outflow to Sharjah in recent weeks.
The higher resident base is a catalyst for the current upturn in Sharjah’s retail sector. Many brands, domestic and international ones, are using the additional space coming online at leading malls now rather than wait for new retail capacity to be built in Dubai in the next three years. Sahara Centre, for instance, added 120 brands, principally international names, through the first phase of its development, including Zara, Mango, Fred Perry and Tommy Hilfiger.
“Retail rates across major retail centres in Dubai have witnessed a notable jump  over the past 24 months, driven by rising occupancy rates and higher footfall figures that have driven sales growth,” Mohammad Faheem, senior research analyst at the realty consultancy CBRE M.E, said. “This has resulted in a widening rental gap between the emirates.
“Hence, while retail demand [in the other emirates] is growing amidst a rising population, changing consumer trends and high per capita income, demand is far more focused on meeting the immediate needs of the local community.”
According to Dimitri Vazelakis, executive managing director for malls at Majid Al Futtaim Properties and owner of Sharjah City Centre: “Malls are living organisms in that they are many ways to periodically renew an existing property. An easy way would be to shift the tenant mix around and thus be in tune with changing buyer needs or it could be by creating new space. This is what we did over the years at Deira City Centre and it’s still one of the most popular shopping destinations in the country.
“An old mall need not go out of fashion as long as there is constant renewal.”