“The world over, everyone is talking about Beirut today, especially in creativity and entertainment,” boasted Samer Bsatt at the June 9 launching of Zaitunay Bay. Beirut Waterfront Development (BWD) held the launching of this residential and retail mega-project — inviting their 22 restaurant and retail tenants, the contractors, investors, shareholders and members of the media — to announce the “first and only [commercial] boardwalk in Lebanon” according to Bsatt, the group’s general manager.
The 20,000-square-meter waterfront project along Beirut’s hotel district coastline aims to cater both to Beirut’s tourists and ‘fun in the sun’ seekers and strategically position the bay as the meeting point for yacht-coasters who sail the Mediterranean during the summer months, perhaps as new members of the upcoming exclusive yacht club.
Farouk Kamal, chairman at BWD, a joint venture that began in 2004 between Solidere and the London-based Stow Development, said that throughout Lebanon’s political upheavals and project delays, the budget has grown to $200 million, which reflects in part the constant upgrades made over the years. Overlooking the construction site from a nearby hotel restaurant, he offered Executive his take on the movers and shakers who are revamping the bay, as well as who stands to reap the rewards.
The first of two phases will see the promenade (starting near St. George Yacht Club to just in front of Marina Towers) and its 17 local and international restaurants open to the public by September of this year, where the space will also host concerts and exhibitions to attract maximum foot traffic.
The main contractors are Mouawad-Edde, on the restaurant side, with MAN Enterprise and Hourieh Enterprise also working on phase two, while project manager Interior Design, Engineering and Architecture (IDEA) oversees work on the site.
The second and final phase will see the yacht club and 53 ‘club residences’ delivered in the spring of 2012. “We have a list of 120 who will be founding members of the yacht club, but not confirmed memberships, ”Kamal said. “We need a harmonious mix, including expatriates living in Europe.”
The club will feature a ‘seven-star’ level of service for the 53 units, part of the reason for the significant price, which can easily be described as the most exorbitant Beirut has ever seen. For the smallest size unit, at 85 square meters, the asking price runs at around $2 million, which translates into $23,500 per square meter, but it can only be bought after one becomes a member of the yacht club.
“For a family of three or four, [membership will be roughly] $50,000 initially and then $4,000 to $5,000 annually,” Kamal said. Of course, since the residences are expected to be used for just a few months a year by their owners, one of the included services available is to rent out the clubhouses throughout the year. All in all, the owners of the project stressed the Lebanese character of the journey to create what they hope will become the region’s glitziest boardwalk. “The [man power] on this project is mainly Lebanese, except for the [architectural] concept, which was done by New York’s Steven Holl [the executive architect supervising the design is Lebanon’s Nabil Gholam]. All are Lebanese who have succeeded in their own fields. Lebanese can deliver beautiful things when they work together,” said Kamal, who originally approached Solidere with his vision for creating an entertainment and lifestyle venue on the boardwalk that would reincarnate Beirut’s dolce vita lifestyle of the 1960s.
Just enough cooks
“We had 150 applications from [commercial] tenants, mostly from Lebanon, and we had to pick carefully so that the mix would create a range— not all high-end — and so as not to create too much competition,” said Kamal. MyWaterfront, the big brother of Beirut sushi joint, Mybar, will occupy the largest space among the 17 restaurants, and will feature an outdoor terrace overlooking the bay. A possible competitor, Hakkasan, a world-famous Chinese restaurant with its main outlet in London, was denied a request for a 900-square-meter outlet at BWD due to size limitations.
Mybar Manager Haytham Nasr didn’t hesitate to sign the nine-year rent contract with BWD. “Once I saw the actual development, it was a no-brainer… It’s prime real estate,” he said. “[And] we are looking at events at the waterfront to make sure there is a lot of foot traffic, especially in dead periods of the year.”
Mybar’s crowd funding concept is structured a little higher the second time around, with buying options at $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000,with the payback period guaranteeing money back within two years, and doubling it after four. “[The funding cycle] was nothing short of remarkable,” said Nasr. “A lot of people have trust in this development. We launched our website a month and a half ago and it took us less than five weeks to raise $1.5 million, all from Lebanese investors.”
Lebanese furniture designer Nada Debs, one of the five non-food and beverage outlets, signed for the lease on the June 9 launch day. Her store, which will sell home items and gifts, will be situated amid the 17 restaurants. The designer seems to be betting that a destination within the hotel district, with the added traffic from sea visitors will pay off, even if she is paying more in rent there than at her Saifi village boutique.
Not so crazy
“When [Stow Development] did Marina Towers [a development overlooking Zaitunay Bay], people thought we were crazy, but it pulled all these projects after us,” said Stow’s Kamal.
Though the yacht club’s sales are dependent upon high-net-worth clients, it is projected the expansiveness of the entire real estate development, once complete, will benefit all levels of the tourism industry.
With the global flare of the many expatriate yacht club members, and the mix of international food and beverage brands such as the Indian restaurant Moti Mahal, the Italian tastes of Signor Sassi and America’s glamour steakhouse Cro Magnon, among others, the new waterfront will surely add spice to Beirut’s reputation for sophisticated cuisine, nightlife, and marine activities. Perhaps the ‘la dolce vita’ is soon to return after all.