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French Version

Gulf developer to start building $600-million Beirut complex

Construction of the $600-million Beirut Gate commercial and residential complex, one of the biggest planned developments in Lebanon's history, is expected to move forward close to schedule, proving the resiliency of the country's luxury real-estate market.

The executive director of Abu Dhabi Investment House (ADIH), the company financing the eight-building complex near Martyrs Square, told reporters on Friday that master-plans will be submitted for approval to Solidere and the Order of Engineers and Architects within a week.

"Despite recent events we are right where we want to be and the project is still on target," said Nicholas Fraser, adding that the ADIH will be able to recoup the losses from the eight-week delay.

"The Beirut Gate will not only guarantee job creation, but will show the international community that Beirut is open for business," he said. To promote the Beirut Gate and encourage investors, ADIH is going on a publicity blitz throughout the Gulf and featuring the project at the MIPIN property convention in Cannes this year.

ADIH-commissioned French architect Christian de Portzamparc and US firm Aquitectonica are to design six of the eight buildings. Lebanese architect Nabil Gholam and the ERGA group will be responsible for the other two. A master plan for one of the plots has been approved by Solidere, said Fraser, and the four architects are meeting over the next two days to finalize the remaining seven designs.

Though ADIH's decision to go ahead with the development is a welcome sign of confidence in the Lebanese market, the Beirut Gate project has stoked a fair bit of controversy from the start because it includes the site of the Beirut City Center Building, better known as "the dome," an icon of 1960s "blob" architecture and an emblem of Beirut's modernist era. The former movie theater was slated for demolition in 2003, but saved in 2004 thanks to a rehabilitation scheme commissioned by Solidere and designed by Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury.

Ineke Zondag of ADIH said the dome would be demolished on Friday, but sources at Solidere said they were unaware of any plans to take down the building so soon. No demolition work was in evidence on the site itself.

In its master plan for the city center, Solidere has designated the site for cultural use, though whether or not such designations are actually legally binding remains an open question. The dome is included in some of ADIH's simulations of the completed Beirut Gate complex.

"It's being taken down and in a neighboring plot they will build a cultural space below ground as a substitute," Zondag said on behalf of Michael Lawrence, the managing director of real estate for ADIH.

Nasser Chama, the chairman of Solidere, endorsed the project at the news conference, saying it "underlines that Beirut's city center remains an attractive and profitable magnet for real-estate investment."

Fraser also insisted that a Solidere representative has attended each workshop to offer input on the final building plans.

The ADIH is one of a handful of high-profile GCC real-estate developers - including Damac Properties, which is building the $150-million La Residence by Ivana Trump - that immediately resumed work after the summer's hostilities.

Indeed, some new projects have been launched since the cease-fire went into effect. International Financial Advisers announced its purchase of a $13.5-million office building in Bab Idriss, and a Kuwaiti bank is in talks to purchase a $70 million plot in Solidere.

But others are less certain.

Levant Holdings, the Kuwaiti-Lebanese joint holding company in charge of the $1.1-billion Phoenicia Village complex, has returned money to its shareholders until the political situation stabilizes.

Beirut 14-10-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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