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Imperium Residence - May 2003
Interview of Antoine Farah - Projects Development
Real estate agency Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon

Real Estate

Beirut has been ranked as the world’s 23rd most expensive city for office locations, according to a 2003 survey conducted by property consultants Cushman & Wakefield Healy & Baker.

Beirut, once the “Pearl of the Orient,” was also ranked as the most expensive city in
the Middle East and Africa, right before Tel Aviv, Dubai, Istanbul and Johannesburg. In last year’s survey, Beirut was the 28th most expensive city worldwide and the second most expensive in the region.

Real estate in Lebanon went through very different phases. In the early nineties the sector was pushing the whole economy with extensive reconstruction programs, and buildings were erected all over the country.The problem is that most of the buildings were addressed to the upper class and to Gulf investors, when the demand was ranging from small to medium sizes apartments. This led to a severe recession that isn't over yet. The market lacked liquidity, and prices went down. The result is that owners didn't want to sell at prices that were judged far under the real price.

Now the market is showing positive signs of recovery. Real Estate is shifting from a family owned business to a professionally run one. The best example is that investors are now conducting surveys and market researches before they start building. This was not the case a few years ago. Another positive sign is the return of international investors to Beirut Central District. Virgin, Ericsson, and almost all the leading financial institutions of the country have established their Head or Regional offices in this area. And the huge effort that has been consented by the country to re-attract investors is about to give its fruits.

This success is not so surprising : Lebanon has many advantages for large corporations. The geographic situation makes it a privilege gateway to all the Arab countries, and the Lebanese way of life is more attractive for European than the one that can be enjoyed in other neighbouring countries. On top of this, the banking laws can be considered as a plus for foreign companies willing to expand their activities in the region.

The future can be seen with optimism as many important projects are still on an ascendant phase. In Beirut Central District a "chain reaction" can be expected : the more companies and governmental institution will be established there, the more attractive the district will be for the others. In addition, the dragging effect is not limited to the central district, the bordering areas such as Sodeco, Hamra, Verdun and Tabaris are benefiting from the boost.

Today, the major projects in Lebanon are :
- Beirut Central District

Partly destroyed during the war, this area is the financial heart of the city. The Société Libanaise pour le Développement et la Reconstruction (solidere) has been created to rebuild this Beirutins beloved area.
Two marinas will welcome the boats and will be surrounded by shops and restaurants.The city centre already attracts the public back in what was one the world's biggest building site, only few years ago. Green spaces, wide access roads will contribute to give back the pride of their capital to the Lebanese people.

Approximately 58 percent of the Beirut Central District’s (BCD’s) 342,589 square meters of office space is occupied, according to a survey released in December by RAMCO real estate consultants. The Beirut-based group said that there are 119 office buildings in the BCD, with 30 of them, (or 25 percent) fully occupied and 44 buildings, (or 37 percent) completely vacant.

In July 2002, the $52.5 million sale of a parking lot in Riad Solh Square has led to one of the most ambitious projects in downtown Beirut.

The lot will be part of a 50,000 square-meter space slated to become a state-of-the-art mixed-use facility that will include a shopping center, movie theaters, a hotel, apartments, condominiums, a health club and an office building.

The main attraction of the project may not be the shopping centre, which might be held by an international anchor tenant, nor the movie theatres, but the building itself. Jean Nouvel, an internationally renowned architect, has been asked to prepare a design for "a modern architectural icon for Beirut".

- Linord
We have seen the development of this project in Dbayeh with the marina and all the space gained on the sea. In addition, the waste dump has been treated and on an environmental point of view this is a step toward a clean Lebanon.

Water treatment also represents a major stake for the country. It is worth saying that Lebanon is the only water self-sufficient country in the region. Water is a major concern and a strategic asset. It is beginning to be considered as a precious good and water treatment works have been conducted in order to guarantee a non polluted domestic and industrial water supply.

Today Lebanon has a far better infrastructure than 5 years ago. The time when two hours drive were a minimum from Beirut to Jounieh are over. If the same progresses can be achieved in the 5 coming years, the country will have recovered most of the quality of life that has made its fame in the past.

Yann Rotil