HIGH-END HOSPITALITY

Lebanon 2016 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Waddah El-Solh, Country Head - Levant of Majid Al Futtaim Properties, on the current status of Waterfront City, attracting business to the project, and other projects in the pipeline.

Waddah El-Solh
BIOGRAPHY
Waddah El Solh is the Country Head of Levant, covering Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. He has held this position since 1999. In his role, El-Solh represents Majid Al Futtaim properties in the Levant in areas concerning financial, governmental, and regulatory affairs. Prior to joining Majid Al Futtaim Properties, he 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, El-Solh is a graduate of California State University, and a licensed contractor from the California Contractors State Licensing Board.

How has the Waterfront City project evolved and what is its current status?

Waterfront City is a mixed-use integrated development that offers a welcoming and clean residential neighborhood, multi-experience retail offerings with a strong emphasis on the F&B sector, a state-of-the-art business park, and a complementary high-end hospitality offer, all tied in by a pleasant walkable and green public realm. It is virtually the heart of a city that offers an unmatched location on the Mediterranean with a vibrant enjoyable lifestyle, overlooking one of the largest marina on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Due to the relatively large size of the project, among other constraints that are inherent to the local market, we have been developing Waterfront City in stages with strict adherence to the highest international standards applied to all the different components of the project. Our project has been well received locally and in the region in general, especially Lebanese living locally and in the MENA region and aspiring to have a home to come back to. To put this into perspective, the numbers speak for themselves, as in the first active phases of the project we have sold 505 units, representing 75% of the total units on offer, of which 80% were sold to local Lebanese and 20% were sold to Lebanese living abroad.
Moving on, we started construction of the second residential phase of the project, of which we have received strong demand as well. In addition, we will be starting the first phase of our Business Park development toward the last quarter of 2016.

How is this concentration of business, residential, and commercial spaces at Waterfront City increasing the appeal of the project?

It is the synergy between the different elements of this project that comes into play to define its uniqueness in the region. Waterfront City is not developing and selling residential units in the clear sense of the word; rather we are employing Majid Al Futtaim's experience and know-how in mixed-use development to offer a distinctive lifestyle to our residents, visitors, and all those who are connected with Waterfront City directly or indirectly, that is unique, fun, and carries with it great memorable moments for everyone every day.

The Lebanese diaspora and the other markets where you operate represent a pool of potential buyers for this project. Have you structured any particular strategy to attract them?

Lebanese expatriates definitely represent potential clients of ours, and we have been hard at work ensuring our project's visibility to them wherever they are. In this context, we have been active in promoting Waterfront City project in all major real estate conferences and exhibitions, on the local and regional level. We organized road shows, and have also tapped into Majid Al Futtaim's extensive market reach into the MENA and GCC regions. In addition, we have been quite accommodating in our products mix to offer products that are adaptable to the needs of such target market buyers.

Do you have other projects in the pipeline?

At Waterfront City, and in completing the offer, we have progressed in the design of the Majid Al Futtaim second mall in Lebanon, which will be similar in size to the Beirut City Center, and have well advanced on the level of the required approval process. In addition to all the major brands, the mall will host a Carrefour hypermarket, VOX multiplex theaters, and a Magic Planet, with a total investment in excess of USD500 million. The mall will also be accompanied by a four-star business hotel that carries with it an investment of USD250 million, in addition to further residential development of the same magnitude. We are looking into the development of a third mall, but this option is still on the drawing board.