FULL FRONTAL DEVELOPMENT

Lebanon 2013 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | FOCUS: BEIRUT WATERFRONT

Taking advantage of the demand for smaller luxury apartments, Waterfront City will attract a host of different people to its mixed-use development once completed.

With just under 50 kilometers of undeveloped coastline remaining in Lebanon, land reclamation has become vital to providing additional shoreline for residential developments. One of the largest projects, which finally began construction in late spring 2013, is the Beirut Waterfront Development. Once completed, it will be a 250,000-sqm, mixed-use project located on 1 million-sqm of reclaimed land, which was completed in 1997. It will include 1,500 luxury apartments of varying sizes, as well as dining, entertainment, two international hotels, a grade-A business park, and a world-class shopping center. Waterfront City is located along the Dbayeh shoreline and is approximately 15 kilometers north of Beirut, and accessible via two flyovers. It will cost an estimated $2 billion and will be split into multiple phases with an estimated time of completion of 14 years, taking us into 2027.

The project is a joint venture between the UAE-based company Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) and Lebanese-based company Joseph G. Khoury et Fils. Waterfront City will be a mixed-use project, with Phase I expected to be completed by early 2015. It will consist of 348 units in seven low-rise residential blocks as well as a retail promenade. Phase I will cost an estimated $226 million and will be the single largest bulk delivery of apartments to the Beirut housing market. Apartments in Phase I will range from 85 sqm to 600 sqm, while Phase II will have a slightly smaller range of 90 sqm to 400 sqm to fit the growing trend of smaller-sized, luxury dwellings. Sales for Phase I are going well, with 60% of the apartments sold as of the beginning of 2013; by May 2013 the project had raised over $330 million from apartment sales. During Phase I, one of the main areas to be built will be the Promenade Residence. It will consist of 188 exclusive two- to five-bedroom apartments starting at 243 sqm. In this complex, apartments will cost from $4,100 per sqm. The Promenade will have a health club, gym, spa, and pool, and will be located near the Colonnade, which is directly next to the Marina section of the project. In later stages of the development, more residential areas will be built; the Marina Duplex and Plaza Residence are two examples of other complexes. The Marina Duplex will consist of 15 unique luxury two floor apartments with three bedrooms each. Each apartment will have a private terrace with a Marina view and direct access to the Promenade facilities. In the Plaza Residence, there will be three buildings housing 160 units with between one and four bedrooms each. Apartments will start at 95 sqm with a starting cost of $3,100 per sqm. In the center of the three buildings will be a communal plaza that will grant direct access to the Promenade and Boulevard.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the apartments are being sold to Lebanese buyers. “Currently, over 90% of the people that have purchased residential units in Waterfront City are Lebanese, and 93% of those are actually living in Lebanon. The remaining 7% are Lebanese expatriates," Waddah El Solh, Country Head-Levant at MAF, told TBY.

Once completed, Waterfront City will boast retail, parks, piazzas, a farmers' market, hotels, commercial and residential units, as well as a signature MAF shopping center. The development will also try to incorporate the art scene and bring a sense of community to the people living there. The cost for the building and maintenance of the communal elements of the project will be met by company finances and partly absorbed into unit costs. Even when the project is completed in 2027, MAF still plans to be an integral part of the city. MAF will retain a stake in the community, especially when it comes to shopping center, retail areas, and hospitality properties. MAF Properties will owe the properties and lease them out to maintain a steady income flow.

One of the contractors that MAF is using for Phase I is a joint venture between Arab Construction Company (ACC) and Joseph Matta. Both are Lebanese firms and together bring both regional knowledge and experience in the domestic building market. ACC has worked on a number of international projects, and Matta's local know-how could be invaluable to Waterfront City. There are very few companies in Lebanon that have the capacity to build something on the scale of this project, so ACC-Matta will be hoping to impress during Phase I to secure the contract for Phase II and III and not lose out to some of Lebanon's other major constructors.

Unlike many of the other premier developments built along Beirut's coast, the strong presence of local buyers in the project is a strong indicator of the underlying strength of the local real estate market, even in the absence of foreign buyer interest.