RENEWED INTEREST

Lebanon 2019 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

Cornerstone Development offers sustainable real estate tailor-made for the local market and its diaspora.

Anthony Stephan
BIOGRAPHY
Anthony Stephan has been instrumental in many projects including District//S— a pioneering sustainable microcosm city for the Middle East and entire Mediterranean Basin. Earning global recognition by winning the Urban Design Group’s Francis Tibbalds Prize for the Best Practice Project, Stephan won the two top prizes at the 2014 Real Estate Awards (Leading Design & Architecture and Most Eco-Friendly & Sustainable Project) and the SDG11 (Sustainable Communities & Cities) Award. Stephan is a member of the Lebanese Franchise Association and has invested in F&B, introducing the Häagen-Dazs franchise to Lebanon. He has a master’s in civil engineering from ESIB Beirut and completed the Executive Program at Singularity University in Silicon Valley, California.

How did you weather the crisis in the real estate sector?

Our key project at the moment is District//S in downtown Beirut. We made an investment in acquiring the land before 2010. Due to the crisis, we had to adapt the project. We had the choice to either reduce prices or bet on something different. Agility and flexibility are the key lessons every Lebanese businessman has had to learn. In our case, this forced us to develop some distinguishing features that would set us apart from competitors. First, we believe in sustainability. We are trying to create awareness that investments in renewables will benefit not only the environment, but also they produce savings in the long run, as they cut consumers' bills for maintenance, electricity, water, and air conditioning. Betting on sustainability and technology offers something unique in the Lebanese real estate landscape. Besides sustainability, we also invested in technology, in terms of home automation and predictive maintenance. Thanks to AI, homes can now analyze and learn from inhabitants' routines and accommodate their preferences. We adapted our offer to the needs of the new working generations, who prefer access over ownership. Thus, we have provided our apartments with on-premise facilities such as meeting rooms, co-working spaces, and on-call services. This is what we call a “total solution," a one-stop destination. All in all, I see our efforts to incorporate sustainability and technology mirrored by larger segments of society, as awareness is spread through media and connectivity. Another key element of our project is to mix the local talent with international know-how. Regarding architecture, we chose a British architectural firm that had experience in building cities and included Lebanese architects to adapt it to our culture and perfect the design. In terms of AI, we similarly relied on a company based between France and San Francisco, the heartland of AI, while teaming up with Lebanese developers to enhance talents. As far as sales go, diversification is key. No developer can afford now to stick to one formula. Again, adaptability is key. During the last few years, sales have varied; at some points sales consisted only of few big apartments, while recently it has been more of small apartments.

How would you define the construction style of the project?

Lebanon is a great melting pot of styles and cultures, with a history that ties it to the French, Ottomans, Phoenicians, Romans, and others. After the civil war, Solidere did a great job rebuilding the city, trying to balance the mix of international experience with local traditions. This would also be the best way to define our own project, District //S. Our project has different building designs, as if you were looking at a family picture: there is a certain familiarity, but everyone is a bit different.

Is the Lebanese diaspora an important target?

Since the Lebanese market is small and the purchasing power of Lebanese is reduced at the moment, we are developing a special product for the diaspora, with access to international capital. Our target is young Lebanese living abroad. They need a place in Beirut that they can use for one to three months a year, which they do not want to be empty when they are away. We lease apartments like these for such clients. This includes a storage facility where clients can keep their things when they are not here. While they are away, they can use their apartment, fully serviced, for other people. This scheme is income-generating for the clients, and allows us to keep the space constantly occupied. We are also offering parking, shuttles, bicycles, and electric cars for people commuting to the city. We have an extra 700 parking spaces than what is needed by the project.

What are your goals and expectations for the year to come?

Our goals are reflected in our values. They are commitment to the environment, technology development, community-building, and enhancing local Lebanese talents.