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BFH – Beyond Space, An Experience

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Bahrain Financial Harbour will see increased tenants and businesses, says chief executive ALEX CRAINE

Bahrain’s iconic commercial development project, the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH), is set for a remarkable future, according to its chief executive, Alex Craine. His optimism about the development’s potential was evident as he emphasised that the project offers not just space but an experience for people. With new lease agreements being signed, BFH is poised to achieve its most successful year ever since he assumed office in 2021, said Mr Craine in an exclusive interview with Bahrain This Week.

“What we try and offer here is not just space for people to have shops or offices,” said Mr Criane.
“It’s actually experience, and that’s all about detail. You know it. It’s in some ways similar to the mindset needed for running a hotel. It’s about hospitality.”

A seasoned veteran in the field, Mr Craine assumed leadership of the project amidst challenges during the thick of the pandemic. He expresses his satisfaction at the revival of the property, with as many as 6,000 people regularly coming to offices located within it, which he sees as a promising sign for the future.

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Mr Craine brings with him over 30 years of extensive experience across the UK, US, France, and 14 years in the Gulf region, serving in roles as a consultant and developer. His vast experience has provided him with a comprehensive understanding of every aspect of the business, from the technical side to leasing and beyond. This breadth of knowledge enables him to ensure the right strategy for BFH.

“I would say, the BFH is in its second phase of growth. So in terms of our leasing and bringing new tenants to BFH, the last three years have been record years for us in terms of the amount of space we have leased to people. This year is going to be our best every year, and it’s still early in the year, but I know that because we were just in the process of finalising awarding a lease with a very large client, which is bringing 400 staff here.”

He noted that the project is on the brink of welcoming new additions that will further enhance its already significant transformation. Infracorp, the sub-developers, have successfully delivered Harbour Row, introducing 1,100 apartments, a previously absent feature that has notably altered the project’s dynamic. Additionally, ChartHouse Hotels operated by Infracorp, Conrad Serviced Apartments by Hilton, due to open in the first quarter of this year, and a diverse range of high-end food and beverage offerings on the waterfront are not only changing the dynamic of the area but also positioning BFH as a premier destination, he underlined.

“The future really is to continue more of that. We’ve got to be very creative in how we create space for tenants. We’ve invested a lot of money in building out new space because, when I arrived, a lot of the space we have is just bare what we call shrink or bare concrete. Nobody or very few people in the market want that; people want nicely fitted-out offices. So we have to invest in doing that and be creative in creating a product that looks fresh, contemporary, and new. Even though we’re a national landmark that is part of the skyline, we are still fresh and contemporary.”

Mr Craine cited the building infrastructure meeting international standards, highlighting aspects such as data cabling, power supply, floor-to-ceiling heights, and efficiency. He mentioned investments to maximize these features and meet market demands, and he noted the doubling of the average size of leases secured for tenants in recent years and the anticipation of a threefold increase in the average run rate this year.

“The increasing number of new tenants opening or moving their businesses here is a positive indicator for the Bahrain economy,” he said.

Among the challenges and opportunities are interest rates, funding costs, and sustainability, according to Mr Craine. The development has a sustainability strategy involving simple measures like LED lighting and water conservation, as well as plans for solar energy generation, with measures to improve and offer a quality experience. He also highlighted the efficiency of the building’s floor plates and their focus on customer service and flexible dealings. He lauded the support of the government for sustainable business strategies.

“We face threats like any other development,” he said, adding that challenges are a force to get better.
“You know, complacency is everybody’s enemy.”

Mr Craine said that he has been greatly encouraged by the increasing focus on sustainability issues in the corporate sector in Bahrain. Three years ago, people were just beginning to talk about it, but now it’s becoming a significant topic of discussion, he cited. He noted that BFH is planning to implement sustainability measures in phases, starting with initiatives that lead to financial savings and reduced electricity usage. They are exploring larger initiatives, including partnerships with their occupants and customers. BFH is also considering installing electric car chargers in its car parks.

While the beautiful and elegant structure and the ‘nice square place’ are advantages, Mr Craine believes that the strength of BFH lies in service and experience.

Mr Craine’s beautiful office on the 30th floor, halfway up the building, offers an exquisite view of the sea, showcasing various shades amidst the tide. The horizon provides a view from Manama down to the Bay of Bahrain, Tubli, and Sitra, extending to the coastline of Saudi Arabia on one side and the planes landing at the airport. In the evening, the cityscape adds to the breathtaking panorama.

“All glistening jewel-like at night, it is stunning, and I never go home early, because I like to see the sunsets here,” said the proven musician, who has launched his latest album, ‘Night Dippers’, a collection of blues.

“I’m a total music nerd, and my current music project is a Bahrain-based project called Night Dippers, the first time I’ve ever done Blues; these were obviously very different from my previous punk rock band, Gone Rogue. These were emotional songs, that I was never going to use in that band. They were about the vulnerable side of human beings. So I’ve hooked up with a couple of talented musicians here, and so we’re releasing songs on Spotify and on other streaming platforms.”

Two songs from the album are out: one that was released on Christmas Day called Half Life, which is about the Chernobyl disaster and more generally about sacrifices. The second song, Whole Again, is about a man who’s in a relationship with a woman, and the third, Lost Boy, is soon to be released.
“So yes, we’ve got an album, songs written about all sorts of things, breakups, and the joy of falling in love, and all those human emotions were just recorded down and put out there.”

Mr Craine acknowledged the vast pool of talent in Bahrain, expressing admiration for the abundance of artistic talent spanning sculpture, painting, prose, and music.

“The great thing about Bahrain is that everybody’s talent is valued equally, so within the mindset of people in Bahrain, people just appreciate talent. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an Indian artist, Filipino artist, British artist, or Bahraini artist.”

BFH hosts several art exhibitions that attract significant footfall and attention.

“We are truly honoured to be a part of this vibrant artistic community. We are part of the skyline of Bahrain, and we need to be part of the culture of Bahrain as well, and trying to promote art is our way of doing it.”

The father of three sons hailing from Wimbledon, South London, moved to the Gulf 14 years ago and lives with family—his wife and two school going younger sons—in Saar, while his oldest son is in the UK.
“Coming from London, you really appreciate what a safe and secure society Bahrain is to raise children,” he said.
“I would just like to thank everybody in Bahrain for making me feel so welcome when I came. I think the strength of Bahrain is its people.”

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