As it stands at the moment, Beirut’s newest yacht club doesn’t look like much. The cement floors have yet to be covered, the luxury apartments have yet to be furnished and the gym equipment has yet to be installed — and yet still, the yachts of posh foreigners and locals are moored outside like the highest class of club hoppers queuing to get into a joint that is yet to open.
This is the Beirut Waterfront Development, a $150 million project in the heart of the Beirut Marina, north of Saint Georges and facing the Marina Towers. Upon completion, the project will stand on 22,351 square meters of reclaimed land and offer 20,000 square meters of built up area divided into two plots.
The first plot will include the 14,000 square meter yacht club. Alongside the yacht club construction machines are currently working on the foundation of a 6,000 square meter structure that will host a mix of 14 restaurants and retail outlets. The rooftop of this structure will hold landscaped areas and swimming pools. An additional 22,000 square meters of underground space will be dedicated to parking and technical areas.
The project will open in phases. Restaurants will be completed by November 2010 and tenants will have five to six months to settle in before the official opening takes place in spring 2011. A few months later, the yacht club and residences will follow. By the end of 2011, the whole waterfront project is scheduled to be complete.
The Beirut Waterfront Development faced several delays, ranging from security issues to the complexity of building the understructure. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri caused a prolonged shutdown of the whole area and thus halted construction work.
Farouk Kamal, executive chairman of Stow Waterfront Development (Stow) and director at Beirut Waterfront Development (BWD), said that the costly underwater construction of the parking and technical areas required more time than expected.
“We originally needed two years to finish the underwater construction, but it dragged on and it took us three years,” he said.
Samer Bsat, assistant general manager at BWD also explained that the complicated architecture of the yacht club delayed licensing, which caused the project’s completion further postponement.
The joint venture
BWD, the developer behind the project, is a 50-50 joint venture between Solidere and Stow. The agreement was signed in 2004, where Solidere’s contribution was in kind, as it provided 22,351 square meters of reclaimed land for the development, matched by $31.6 million provided by Stow. The rest of the money for construction will be funded through equity and local banks.
Stow’s involvement started with the 26-story Marina Towers project, located at the waterfront and completed in 2007. Solidere provided Stow with a tunnel linking the tower directly to the Marina.
“We sort of became curious about what is happening there, so we started following up… and then we agreed on the terms,” said Stow’s Kamal.
A strategic approach
The American company Steven Holl Architects designed the project in collaboration with Lebanese architect Nabil Gholam, who produced the detailed design. The purpose of the waterfront project is to create a new “human anchor” for all Beirutis and an attractive destination on the Mediterranean Sea for sailors, said BWD in a press release.
Kamal said that the waterfront development aims to complement the downtown area and become an active social hub that would be considered as a ‘Lebanon brand’.
“We are very proud of what has been set up,” said Kamal.
To make it easier for pedestrians to access the development, a bridge will link the project to the hotel district that will soon host the Al Hayat Hotel and the Four Seasons, and which already includes the Beirut and Marina towers, as well as the Monroe and Ramada hotels.
The development will be semipublic, thus allowing anyone to access to the restaurants, the green areas and the marina, while the yacht club will be reserved exclusively for members.
Sky high prices
The yacht club is already 85 percent complete, explained BWD’s Bsat. Some 16,000 square meters will be dedicated to apartments — 54 fully furnished luxurious flats — with the balance allocated to the club area. According to Kamal, the architectural design of the club was done in such a way that all units will have equally exceptional views.
A selling price has not been set for the apartments.
“The strategic decision is to get as [high] as we can [in prices],” said Bsat. Therefore BWD will not start selling apartments before they are completed, since [the finished apartments] would attain higher prices. “It is easier to be convinced to buy an apartment when you see it rather than on a plan,” he added.Kamal said the price tag on the apartments will be completely dissociated from prices of other real estate developments in the area.
“We are not related to the market in general, this is a unique project and the prices we will achieve will not be related to the surroundings,” he added.
Owners will have the option to lease the apartments in their absence. The leasing will be managed by BWD and apartments will have a ‘5-plus’ star service.
Joining the yacht club will also be expensive, but the fees, like the apartment prices, have not been set yet. Fifty selected personalities will represent the founding members, while normal membership will be open to 800 individuals.
Restaurants and retail
Fourteen different restaurants and eight or nine retail outlets will be hosted in the marina development. BWD has not sealed the contract with any tenants yet, but has received 150 “serious applications,” according to the company.
BWD spent a substantial amount of time investigating the right mix of restaurants at the Marina.
“We wanted to be sure that whoever is going to open will stay there for a long time,” said Bsat. Kamal added that “If we get a good Japanese restaurant, we avoid having a competitor next door.”
The restaurants, located below the level of the road in front of development, will allow the sidewalk above to be extended from 3 to 20 meters, with the roofs of the restaurants landscaped so as to offer the public a park-like experience while admiring the sea view.
BWD will also manage the yacht club and restaurants.
The design is done, construction has started and the project is progressing quickly. However, one question remains unanswered: what to name the development?
Kamal said that the company is thinking of calling the area ‘Zeitouni’ (‘The Olive’), which was the name of the hotel district which faced the BWD a long time ago. This old area was considered as the place to be, and the heart of Beirut where all the restaurants and leisure facilities existed. For authenticity, Kamal added that they might plant a 1,000-year-old olive tree in the marina.