As many developers and investors eyed the Lebanese real estate market cautiously at the start of 2007, Bassil Real Estate Developers (BREI) attracted significant local and regional attention for moving forward with new projects despite political uncertainty. Last month, BREI formally unveiled plans for the seventh edition of its luxury Convivium brand, a $15 million venture with leading Kuwaiti asset management and investment banking organization MARKAZ.
The new ‘it’ neighborhood
With a total development area of 12,000m2, Convivium VII, which will be built in the Badaro area of Beirut, marks the brand’s first departure from the Gemaizeh neighborhood, where Convivium I-III are located and IV-VI are at various stages of completion. In fact, BREI was among the first companies to recognize Gemaizeh’s potential: now, as the company shifts its gaze to Badaro, many people are beginning to speculate as to whether BREI might be, once again, ahead of the crowd. Is Badaro Beirut’s next ‘it’ neighborhood?
According to Patrick Geammal, general manager of Ascot Real Estate in Beirut, Badaro’s potential is enormous. “Karim [Bassil, BREI’s CEO ] is a pioneer to have thought of the area. He’s always a pioneer,” noted Geammal, who believes that BREI’s venture will mark the first step in the development of Badaro. Three to five years from now, he predicts, the neighborhood will be on every developer’s list.
Badaro’s potential, explains Geammal, is built on three factors: its geographic location, its relative affordability, and its pleasant tree-lined mixed-use character.
On the first count, Geammal observed that “Badaro has all the geographic components for success: it is the crossway of Beirut. It’s just minutes from Verdun, Hazmieh or downtown. But it’s also right by Ashrafieh.” Proximity to Ashrafieh leads into Badaro’s second cachet: affordability.
As Ashrafieh and Sodeco have become increasingly expensive (and, to put it simply, full – there is little undeveloped land in the area), people have begun to look elsewhere for residential property. At present, prices per square meter in Badaro range from around $800 to $1,300; in Ashrafieh, average prices for new build are around $2,200/ m2. “In the future, Badaro will simply be a continuation of Ashrafieh,” predicted Geammal. “It’s already starting to emerge as an option: people realize they can get a bigger house on a smaller budget. It’s a normal extension of the market.”
This effect has already been seen in Sioufi, a residential neighborhood on Ashrafieh’s eastern edge that has seen a boom in recent years. However, Geammal believes Badaro will quickly outstrip Sioufi as the best Ashrafieh alternative. While Sioufi is almost exclusively residential, lacking commercial facilities, Badaro is mixed-use, housing residences, offices and numerous shops, banks and restaurants. Badaro also offers something rarely found in Beirut: an abundance of trees and greenery.
“Badaro gives the impression of Rabieh, but it’s just a bridge away from the BCD,” noted Geammal. “It’s a very interesting spot.”
BREI certainly thought so. The Convivium VII project was tentatively drawn up several months before the four plots in Badaro were bought in October 2006. “It’s a great location, and it goes perfectly with our concept. With the Convivium brand, we don’t want to be everywhere – we only consider places that match the brand’s identity, which means a very specific urban environment,” explained Rania Tueini, marketing and communications manager. The two-building residential project, which will be ideally-situated between the museum and the hippodrome, also includes its own 120-meter-long private garden, which Tueini cites as a way of blending the development in with the neighborhood (one of Convivium’s trademarks). So far, response has been positive: BREI policy demands that 20% of units be sold before any project is launched, to confirm sufficient demand. Construction has yet to begin, and Convivium VII was only just announced – but 35% of available units have already been snatched up by eager buyers.
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