BEACHWARD BOUND

Lebanon 2013 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Farouk Kamal, Chairman and General Manager of Beirut Waterfront Development (BWD), on the challenges of properly phasing one of Beirut's landmark seaside developments.

Farouk Kamal
BIOGRAPHY
Farouk Kamal is a well-known figure in the London and Middle East property markets, and provides the entrepreneurial vision and leadership for the Group. He has over 20 years of experience in property investment and development and has grown the business of the Group from inception to its current assets of over £180 million. Previously, he was Managing Director of two subsidiaries of Beijerinvest, a major Swedish conglomerate now owned by Volvo. Prior to this, he was General Manager of Trans Mediterranean Airways in Scandinavia. He is a graduate of the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut and the University of Oxford with a Degree in Economics.

What have been the milestones for Beirut Waterfront Development (BWD) in the past year?

We began operations in Zaitunay Bay, and they have been underway for nearly a year and a half now. It is performing well, although we have had difficult times in terms of tourism. Fortunately, we intended the destination to serve the young, middle-class Lebanese or professionals, just to create an outlet where they could go to eat something or get a cup of coffee. It is an environment that is very much in the center of town, but when you go there, you feel as though you are somewhere else. It has been good. This is an outdoor, all-day destination. This is something you need to be able to use all day to make sense, operationally. You cannot have a place for only a couple of hours in the evening where people come for a drink after work.

What are your prospects for the yacht club?

We are going to have a private environment for members and their guests. It is being furnished right now. We will have an association with European yacht clubs, so we will have people who can stay here and those members can enjoy each other's locations. We were hoping to have a grand opening for the whole project, including the yacht club, in the spring of 2013; however, the contractors were late and many elements are taking time to put in place. We have also attached to it a really good Lebanese restaurant—probably the best one we have in this country. It is an open-terrace type of approach with an open grill. It will be a little funky as well.

In terms of marina and waterfront developments, what is your outlook?

We have another project, but we are putting it on the backburner. It will be around 40,000 sqm in the south of Beirut. The shape of the marina will be round and large, so you can be on the breakwater. We have designed it carefully, though the final design is very different. It will have a small tower and a clubhouse. There will also be some villas. It will be all green with no cars driving in the area. It is in our head for the time being, but we are going to get the permits. It is different from Zaitunay Bay; it is very much a residential development with facilities and clubs. It is very much geared toward permanent residency. We have some leisure facilities in the form of a club, but it is about creating special residential environments, really. It is not going to be cheap. My personal dream is that we become an exciting part of the Mediterranean list. We can do that. It is not because of the huge coastline, but because we love service, we love to create things, we love to be hospitable, we love visitors, and we love the freedom of life.

“ My personal dream is that we become an exciting part of the Mediterranean list. "

How do you assess the process of getting permits in Lebanon?

It is 40 years behind the times. The bureaucracy is not very encouraging. Actually, there was one government official who told me that our problem in the private sector is that we speak different languages. When I asked what he meant, he said that when we bring them something for permits, they interpret it the same way they would have 50 years ago. They do not ask for a disk or electronic designs; they want signs and drawings.