The ICSC Blog

Morocco’s first mall brings Paris to Africa

One mall developer is giving Morocco’s well-to-do one less reason to jet off to Paris. That country’s very first mall will open later this month in Casablanca, along 25 acres of seafront. This is a major event in this city of 3.2 million that is among North Africa’s largest and most important economically, and which, until now, has lacked a large, modern shopping center. But nearly all the space in the 753,500-square-foot Morocco Mall is already leased, and the 350 stores include names familiar to Parisian shoppers — Galeries Lafayette, Hermès and Louis Vuitton among them. One sign of just how new malls are here is that it was necessary to hold a three-week program to train the employees as store clerks.

“We are witnessing history here,” said Mohamed Charif Houachmi, a partner of Business Realities, a local real estate consulting firm that is unaffiliated with the mall. Morocco happens to be economically ripe for such a development. The country’s unemployment rate is below 10 percent, in contrast to, say, Spain’s, which is now about 20 percent. Morocco is in far better shape economically than neighboring Tunisia, too, and has consequently seen little of the sort of unrest that led to the overthrow of Tunisia’s president.

To be sure, most Moroccan households earn less than a fifth of the European average. But Casablanca still happens to be the most economically advanced of Morocco’s cities — as much as three and half times richer than some of the country’s poorer ones, according to government data. Moroccan GDP has been growing at a rate of about 5 to 6 percent yearly over the past decade. Morocco is an agricultural exporter and a textile manufacturer, as well as a top tourist draw for Europeans in search of a warm climate for the winter.

Aksal Group, of Morocco, and Nesk International, a Saudi retail investment firm, are the chief investors in the $242 million center. Its designer is Design International — no stranger to North Africa, having also designed commercial space in Tunis and the 839,600-square-foot Cleopatra Mall, which will open in summer 2012 in Cairo.

The Morocco Mall design takes advantage of the waterfront location, with food courts that look out onto the sea and windows built to let in the breezes. Among the amenities are an aquarium, a musical fountain, an ice rink and an Imax cinema. Each end of the mall uses its own color scheme. Traditional woodcarvings and craftwork are incorporated too, and the designers have not overlooked the simple things, such as the fact that people enjoy having places to sit and sip coffee. “Casablanca doesn’t just like to spend on luxury, they also like to have their coffee nonstop,” said Design International CEO Davide Padoa.

Yes, such opulence is a novelty in Morocco and in North Africa as a whole, says Houachmi. But that is precisely the point and exactly what is right with this mall, he asserts, because people the world over want essentially the same things.

“Personally, I think it’s going to work,” he said. “We are not so different from the rest of the world.” — Bennett Voyles

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