At first thought, a new 10,000 square-meter gated community might seem like the last thing an already overcrowded Beirut needs. But the forthcoming Bella Casa, by MENA Capital, takes a different approach to sequestered living. Instead of avenues lined with cookie-cutter tract homes, Bella Casa will feature three residential towers of small and medium-sized apartments, spacious lofts and penthouses, while leaving roughly 8,000 square meters for communal space.
Nabil Sawabini, chairman of MENA Capital, says: “When we started about five years ago, our focus was on the high-end market because there was a genuine demand for that kind of product.” Times have changed, he adds, and buyers are now looking for smaller, more practical living spaces: “We started to notice just over a year ago that there was a shift towards medium to smaller-sized apartments, and the shift was principally because the price-per-square-meter went up considerably. People simply could not afford the larger apartments anymore.”
According to Sawabini, the current plan calls for MENA Capital to break ground this month near the Adlieh roundabout in Ashrafieh, with delivery expected in the summer of 2015.
Bella Casa is funded principally through a MENA Capital investment vehicle, Signature Properties. There are co-investors for 20 percent of the project, with the remaining balance — some $8 million to $10 million — financed by Bank Audi for the purchase of the land.
“Normally we do not pursue a project unless we [have sold] a minimum of about 20 percent of the project,” Sawabini explains. “By selling that much up front, we insure that there is marketability. And by doing so we reduce the funding requirements for the project and the risk involved. Once you go over the 50 percent mark the bank becomes very heavy handed. They can then dictate the terms [of the project].”
In addition to the land purchase, Bank Audi was also brought on board to provide mortgages to buyers. Sawabini says the plan is for Bella Casa to remain “affordable” to potential homeowners who have “high standards of living” but perhaps cannot, or simply do not wish to, live in downtown Beirut.
MENA Capital’s vision of Bella Casa is one of a wide range of options for buyers. There are one, two and three-bedroom apartments, as well as lofts and penthouses, but perhaps the most significant part of the design is the focus on communal green spaces.
Located “literally minutes from Ashrafieh and Downtown Beirut,” Sawabini says, “We started thinking of doing something that is accessible, good quality, tasteful in terms of design, and with the amenities that people truly want when they live in the city and, in many cases, that are lacking right now.
The thinking was, “what areas of Beirut could possibly accommodate something like this?’”
Sawabini boasts that Bella Casa, while less expensive than some other properties in the area, will use “premium” materials usually reserved for the higher end of the market.
Running tracks, two swimming pools, a gym and playgrounds for children will take up much of the land allotted for residents’ use. “It just doesn’t make sense to fill an 8,000 square-meter lot with concrete,” Sawabini says, adding, “you have to build vertically.” The footprint of all three towers combined will be between 1,500 and 1,600 square meters.
And to stay in line with the global push toward greener building practices, Bella Casa will use the latest environmentally conscious technologies for waste management and heating.
Of course, it is all speculation that there is a place in a crowded Lebanese market for a massive new gated community on the outskirts of Beirut. But if MENA Capital’s ambitious plan is a success, it could usher in a new era of smaller, self-contained communities here.
Whether or not that is necessarily a good thing — in terms of the general sense of community more organic neighborhoods here typically have — remains to be seen.