If you take the Uttara-Dhaka Airport road often, you must have spotted two large buildings that have seemingly been under construction for many years.
But when the top brass of United Group - one of the leading business conglomerates of the country- crossed that road, they saw more than just two buildings.
They saw a property, which, through a well-planned facelift, could fill a vacuum that the country needs to address.
There should be something – aesthetically presentable, representational, and culturally and socially vibrant, at the very gateway of Bangladesh.
For whom? Primarily the foreign guests. Broadly, the whole nation.
We have a large population and small land mass. Finding an empty piece of land to build such an establishment is a non-existent luxury. Instead, we need to figure out ways to make the best use of property already in use. In those two buildings, United saw a 'dream for Dhaka'.
Having taken over the almost abandoned properties, United Group is now implementing a development project on the 15.74 acres of land – at very close proximity to the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Once fully completed, it will include international-standard accommodation and convention facilities for foreign guests, as well as an entertainment destination for the local citizens of all ages. The project includes one 5-star hotel, one 4-star hotel with a shopping arcade attached, one banquet hall, one office complex for international brands, a wide arrangement of car parking and a vast open and green space.
Of the establishments, the inauguration of the shopping arcade 'Centrepoint' is in the offing.
The project site is already neighbouring an international airport and an intercity rail station. Now it is transforming into a multi-modal transport junction connected with the under-implementation Mass Rapid Transport Line-1 and the Bus Rapid Transport Line-3. And the HSIA is getting its Third Terminal with extended facilities.
"This place is going to be a focal point of the country. Our project will become a value addition to the Third Terminal. The hotels, convention facilities and shopping arcades will provide ancillary services and boost Dhaka Airport to a global standard," said Moinuddin Hasan Rashid, Chairman and Managing Director of United Group.
The group has inked contracts to develop one 5-star and one 4-star hotel. International brands are also in talks about opening their offices at the office complex.
In the midst of a bustling business district, the Centrepoint is emerging first, like a prologue to an epic play for the global audience.
According to Rashid, participants in international conferences, trade show visitors, and particularly airline crews are ambassadors of their respective countries, and their views of Bangladesh can either motivate or demotivate their peers to visit the country.
He said, "Due to the debilitating traffic situation in Dhaka, travelling between the hotels and the event venue, or somewhere else for entertainment, is often a bad experience for the foreigners. It tarnishes our national image.
On the other hand, they will feel relieved finding almost all they need in the same complex. Foreign guests will return home with a good impression. We initially came up with the idea of the Centrepoint to entertain the hotel occupants. Later, the focus widened as we observed that the local population also needed a convenient place to spend time with family members for a whole day."
When the commuter development projects are completed, shoppers from localities like Uttara, Gulshan, Banani, Tongi, Purbachal and Dhanmandi can reach the Centrepoint in around 30 minutes.
Best location is not the only thing United Group will provide retailers. The group Chairman believes that retailers need a congenial business atmosphere to thrive. "Simply building a shopping hub is not enough," Rashid said.
A good relationship with the authority [shopping arcade operator], grievance redress, accessibilities, back-office support, loading-unloading facilities, cleanliness and security are crucial. Moreover, shoppers' access to hygienic restrooms and their comfort is also a big concern. The Centrepoint promises a good mix of retailers to avoid a series of homogeneous outlets.
"We are not offering merely the best location, but also ensuring all basic necessities to the highest standard, sanitation being one, so shoppers may roam around worry-free. We are also keeping the welfare of shop attendants in mind. There will be dining facilities for them on each floor. We know that a healthy environment for the shop staff can boost the business," Rashid said.
At the project site, work is now going on full throttle.
Inside the shopping arcade, some workers were working on wiring, while some others were laying down the floor tiles or working on the ceiling. The glass adorned exterior façade, featuring an LED screen, is already announcing the coming of a mega shopping hub.
A significant feature of the Centrepoint is that it will offer substantial open spaces; it is supposed to dedicate around 60% of its area to open space for visitors. The escalators and the bridges amidst the wide floor atriums have been planned in such a way that the view does not feel monotonous to the shoppers.
"The shopping arcade will not be a giant one. But its openness will create an impression of a large arena. The oval-shaped arrangement of shops will ensure shoppers don't lose their way. And no shop will remain unnoticed either," said Sheikh Mohammed Faruk Hossain, Director (Sales and Marketing) at the real estate division of United Group.
There will also be adequate benches for tired shopaholics. The railings on all the floors will be made of transparent and tempered glass and kept free from advertisements to provide shoppers and the shops better visibility.
According to the plan, the first level below the ground floor will be allocated to Unimart - a super shop chain of the United Group. The ground floor will house signature brands.
Level-1 will house brands for men while level-2 will be allocated to female-centric brands, wedding wear and jewellery. Leatherwear, home décor and kids' items at level-3, mobile and electronic gadgets at level-4, a food court at level-5 while level-6 will house movie theatres, sports facilities and other entertainment zones.
Moreover, the shopping center authorities will host trade fairs, musical events, food festivals and car shows regularly at the ground floor atrium. On top of it, the atrium space will also be used for exhibitions, where Bangladeshi heritage and culture will be displayed.
United Group officials say retailers operating at the business centre will get access to a proper platform to show their creativity and business skills, and shoppers will enjoy the arrangement.
"United Hospital was built on a site which had been left under construction for 17 years. United Group took over the property in 2003 and you can see how we turned it around. In a fast-paced economy, it is tough to predict the future. But we are decorating the place [area of the development project near HSIA] so that it remains relevant for the next 25 years," Rashid said.
In the daytime, Centrepoint's whole atrium will not require much artificial lighting as its architecture allows in lots of sunlight. United's designs give priority to open space, natural lighting and ventilation in infrastructural set-ups, as these "features ensure a healthy and happy life."
"You see, literature always correlates sunlight with joy and darkness with sadness and depression. I [do] believe that. The new generation, who are often termed 'couch potatoes' need a healthy environment with the adequate presence of nature [in their lives] to flourish. With the eco-friendly interior [of Centrepoint], we want to spread light in society.
Spending the whole day here will not feel suffocating and boring. This mall will be 'safe' for kids, youngsters and senior citizens as well," Rashid added.
Thailand-based Beaumont Partnership has designed the mall while Singapore- based Coopers Hill has done the landscaping. What was the instruction to the consultants? Rashid said, "We sought a layout of the establishment with necessary facilities so that, when completed, it can uphold our national image in the global arena."
"This place will not merely be designated for shoppers. Different types of fairs will be organised here around the year. People of all ages can visit the Centrepoint for recreational, as well as entertainment purposes," Rashid further added.