|Beirut parking lot to form seed of 'Mideast shopping capital' Kuwaiti-Lebanese project will transform city - The Daily Star
|Landmark' will turn downtown site into complex with movie theaters, shops, health clubs, offices and condominiums.
The $52.5 million sale in July of a parking lot in Riad Solh Square has led to one of the most ambitious projects in downtown Beirut.
Solidere sold the lot, some 7,700 square meters, to Landmark, a joint Kuwaiti-Lebanese company. 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 site will also include underground parking. The prime Kuwaiti shareholders are Hamad al-Wazzan and Sheikha Souad al-Homaidi, and the chief Lebanese shareholders are Ahmed Baadarani and Nassif Karam. The total development cost is expected to reach a record $150 million. "Such a project will surely compete with Solidere's souqs and even Verdun," said a Solidere spokesman. With the construction of the 120,000 square-meter souqs expected to resume soon and the Landmark project, downtown Beirut could once again become the shopping center of the Middle East.
The main attraction of the project may not be the shopping center, which might be held by an international anchor tenant, nor the movie theaters, but the building itself. Millennium Development, a local land and real estate development firm with projects in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain has been commissioned by Landmark to consult and advise on the project's conceptual design. Millennium has already invited Jean Nouvel, an internationally renowned architect, to prepare a design for "a modern architectural icon for Beirut," said the firm's town planning and real estate development manager, Oussama Kabbani. Nouvel is famed for his design of the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris, an eye-catcher in the French capital. Nouvel, who visited Beirut and the Riad Solh plot this week to "get the feel and atmosphere of the city," according to Kabbani, has received a number of prestigious awards including the Equerre d'Argent for the best French building for the Institute du Monde Arabe and the Lyon Opera House in 1993.
"My design will be in the spirit of Beirut's history, but will also create a new Beirut," said Nouvel, adding that the project "will be a small city in a city."
Nouvel said that he expects to finish the preliminary designs by January and, if it is approved, the project will become a reality within two years. While in Beirut, the architect appeared taken by the city's charm and the possibilities of adding to an area that already includes ESCWA, the Grand Serail, the Grand Theater, Bank Street, Maarad Street and the new residential area of Wadi Abu Jamil.
"Downtown Beirut is one of the most amazing and beautiful cities I have ever seen, and I am glad to be able to leave my signature in this timeless city," he said.
Tarek El Zein
The Daily Star