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Lebanon 2013 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Waddah El-Solh, Regional Head-Levant at Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Properties, on its projects and regional operations.

Waddah El-Solh
BIOGRAPHY
Waddah El-Solh has held his current position since 1999, having previously founded Projective Development Group Inc. and managed the company’s construction activities and legal obligations for both private- and public-sector projects. A Civil Engineer by profession, he is a graduate of California State University.

What are your expectations for the Waterfront City project?

Waterfront City is a major residential, commercial, and hospitality project. It is actually made up of two major projects, the first being a joint venture between Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Lebanon Holding and Joseph G. Khoury et Fils Holding, which spans an excess of 193,000 sqm of land. This development combines residential and commercial units, a world-class office park, and a five-star hotel. It is practically a city in itself. This is complemented by a second mixed-use project to be developed solely by MAF on approximately 55,000 sqm of land, which extends and complements the first project by providing a mall, retail, food and beverage offerings, a residential complex, and a business hotel to international standards that complements the nearby Metn Convention Center and answers to the needs of business travelers and shoppers alike. It is an excellent opportunity for us to implement our corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and offer our environmentally friendly products to the public. As with Beirut City Centre, the new mall to be developed in this location will house a Carrefour hypermarket, as well as our family entertainment center offerings that include VOX Multiplex theatre and Magic Planet, in addition to other international and local brands.

When will Waterfront City be completed?

This is a major project to begin with, and to actually design and build over 500,000 sqm of a mixed-use development represents a major challenge to any developer on the local or international scene. There are several constraints as far as how fast you can develop such a capital project, first and foremost being local and regional stability, coupled with market maturity and the absorption rate, as well as the availability of experienced contractors that have the technical expertise and financial capabilities to handle and deliver projects of this magnitude. Being aware of these constraints, we are releasing this project in phases. We have launched Phase I and I-A, and the responses have been encouraging; we are getting ready to release Phase II, to be followed by the eventual launch of Phase III. As this is an integrated development, it is not based on cashing in on off-plan sales of residential units, rather by introducing the necessary drivers to create a lifestyle that is befitting of the most prestigious development on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Thus, the imminent introduction of the office park concept and the announcement of the five-star hotel, which should frame-in this development, will set it off on the right track toward its timely completion.

How many residential spaces will Waterfront City have and what is the size range?

There are several factors that come into play when determining the number and size of units in a residential development. We started out with Phase I and Phase I-A, where units offered ranged in size from 85 sqm to over 600 sqm. In Phase II, we introduced units that were between 90 sqm and 400 sqm. At the end of the day, market demands and dynamics will come into play in determining the end product. People will always be looking for quality and choices, and our offer is designed to cater to their tastes and needs.

What is the average buyer profile?

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. This is a further testimony to the fact that people really believe in this project and a clear indication of it is their primary choice of residence.

How are your international operations evolving?

We have a strong commitment to the region. We are present practically throughout all of the GCC countries and are expanding into the MENA region. We currently have 12 major commercial centers spread across the major cities within the GCC, Egypt, and Lebanon, with major residential/community developments being realized throughout the region, in addition to several new hotels that are being developed to add to the company's current portfolio of 3,000 four- and five-star hotel rooms. The intent is to lay the groundwork to meet the founder's vision and expand through careful planning while being true to the company's motto to “Lead by Example."