Fadi Antonios presides over a network of industrial enterprises in the United Arab Emirates and has growing interests in Lebanese real estate. Through his development company, Antonios Projects, he is the sole owner and developer behind what will be Lebanon’s tallest tower, the 50-story Sama Beirut, currently under construction in Ashrafieh, where it will offer luxury retail space, offices and residences. Executive recently got the scoop on the project and on Antonios’ future plans for his home city.
Since the construction contract alone is well over $100 million for Sama Beirut, is it not risky to self-finance the entire project?
My father used to say, ‘In real estate, never take a partner; it’s like [having a] wife, you don’t take a partner.” [laughs] If you can realize your project without banking facilities it is better and less risky… Now we have a bridge loan [a guarantee from the bank in case of a financial shortfall]… but we don’t have any problems with financing. I always work by myself [without partners].
Besides that, I am working on a much bigger project. It will be a gated community, which will have close to 60 buildings in a prime location in Beirut and will have all internal facilities, security at the gates and a club for the families.
I am also starting an office building in Beirut, near Université Saint Joseph, where there is a need for “clever offices”. I bought the plot, which is close to 2,000 square meters, and we are now working on the drawings and architecture. Again, it is all being financed by myself.
To date, what is your total investment in Lebanon?
Quite a lot. I think investing in Lebanon in real estate is still the safest and most interesting place. Especially that we are Lebanese and we know the mentality, the people. It is much easier to navigate the construction field [in Lebanon] than anywhere else in the world.
The construction contract awarded to MAN Enterprise was more than $100 million whenannounced in June. Was this the original budget?
Yes, but the construction budget has increased more than 50percent.
We didn’t expand floors but it is due to the improvements,choice of material, high technology and the devaluation of the US dollar.
How does Sama Beirut use solar water heating techniques?
We tried to use solar energy to produce basic electrical needs. Unfortunately the photovoltaic technology is still very expensive and it did not pay to invest in it. For the hot water, that is a much simpler technology and it’s enough to provide hot water for 24 hours without burning fuel… Fuel for boilers and maintenance of systems is getting more expensive. With solar, it’s a free system and maintenance is cheap.
In the UAE,developers have traditionally applied a mix of British and US fire safety standards, but the rules are currently being standardized, as some new residential buildings reach over 100 stories. What about in Sama Beirut?
Here we can use the service floors [every 10 floors] and we also have fire-proof elevators in addition to fire safety plans and installations. We are applying fire safety [techniques] that are a mix of the French and American systems.
Lebanese engineers are really the best, I would say. I enjoy working with these engineers and architects. I always use Gregory Gatzerelia for all my private residences… For Sama Beirut, we considered international contractors before choosing MAN Enterprise. [The deciding factor] was not price, it was experience in mastering Lebanese construction, rules and regulations — its name and its realizations are the best buildings in Beirut.