DUBAI: Abu Dhabi’s new 270,000 square meter creative hub, which is set to open in 12 months’ time, is aiming to attract over 16,000 professionals from the entertainment, film, TV and gaming sectors, and position the emirate to compete with international locations such as Hollywood, Bollywood and the UK.
“Abu Dhabi is beginning to look like a mature part of the media ecosystem, not just an appendage,” Michael Garin, CEO of Twofour54 Abu Dhabi, told reporters in a virtual press conference on Monday.
“Up until now, our experience has been for people to come, work on a project, and leave. While that was a helpful step in the development of our ecosystem, it's not really what we need. What we need is for people to come here, work here, live here, send their kids to school here, and that's really the impact that the phase we've now entered will have,” he added.
The size of 40 football pitches when complete, the first phase of the Yas Creative Hub is nearly 75 percent built and will be nestled among Yas Island’s other entertainment attractions, such as Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi.
When it opens in the fourth quarter of 2021, around 600 companies and 5000 professionals will relocate to the facility, including industry names such as CNN, Ubisoft and Unity Technologies.
Facilities will include five towers, the Arab Film Studio, a 26,000 square meter external amphitheater, a public park and 26,000 square meters of rooftop space. The campus will double the amount of studio space available in the emirate.
One of the ways the Abu Dhabi Film Commission attracts blockbuster productions to the emirate is by offering a 30 percent cashback rebate on production spend. Garin believes the new campus will help generate a higher return on investment. He pointed out that for every dirham the Abu Dhabi government spends on the rebate, three dirhams is generated in income for the emirate in spin-off revenue for hotels and associated businesses in the surrounding area.
“But once we build the sustainable ecosystem and people live here, because they can work here, that multiplier expands from three to four. Why? Because they're sending their kids to school here, they're renting apartments or buying houses or buying cars, they're spending money on food. So, the implications of this creative hub and the ecosystem that we're building transcends just the industrial impact,” he said.
Around 80 percent of available space in the campus has already been sold, and Garin, who has worked in the entertainment industry for over 40 years, said the campus has already shown proof of concept.
“We will shortly be able to announce major Hollywood productions that are already scheduled to be here… We know it's sustainable because we already know what our pipeline is for 2021. Our problem now is not to bring in the productions, our problem, and our challenge… which we're addressing aggressively, is to have enough facilities for the productions that want to be here,” he said.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, studios in the US, UK and India shut down production, while Abu Dhabi was one of the few entertainment destinations to continue operating and around $100 million worth of production actually took place at Twofour54’s facilities during the pandemic.
Katrina Anderson, director of commercial services, said Twofour54 also supported companies struggling during COVID-19. “We've done COVID support packages. We haven't just put payments on hold, because then if you put it on hold, people still have to pay that back,” she said.
“So we actually provided rental relief to partners, SMEs, entrepreneurs, any of the areas that we’re really trying to grow, provided they have been with us and they are partners on campus and they meet certain criteria. But we’ve helped so many partners, I think it’s over one hundred we've provided rent relief to and support to,” she added.
Abu Dhabi has hosted high-profile productions such as Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, Fast and Furious 7, Brad Pitt's War Machine and the US soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, but with the opening of the Yas Creative Hub the emirate will be hoping to attract even more blockbuster names and become one of the top entertainment capitals of the world.