The Omani government in partnership with private investors unveiled the $15 billion Madina Al Zarqa (Blue City) – its most ambitious project yet – early last month.
Sprawling over 35 sq km, this project, which is gearing up for a kick-start by the end of this year, will offer numerous investment opportunities not only to Omani nationals but also expatriates.
Designed to open up tourism and economic avenues in the region, the unique project is set in one of the most interesting of landscapes in the Arabian peninsula.
Blue City features tourist resorts as well as extensive education, healthcare and sports facilities, which will be constructed in multiple phases, making it a tourism and business destination of national, regional and international relevance. “These are aspects that work hand-in-hand with tourism but go beyond it,” Heiko Achilles, CEO, ReeMoon Real Estate Development – owner representative and development manager for Blue City, told Gulf Construction.
To be built along the Al-Sawadi seafront, 100 km northwest of Muscat, the project is being created to permanently house 200,000 people upon completion in 2020.
“It’s a huge development which requires a phased approach. However, most of the jobs would be fast track. Even the whole planning, feasibility study, research, design and financing process has taken only seven months which is an achievement on its own. Multiple firms were hired to work on parallel tasks and at the end their efforts were pooled to bring the project to the launching stage,” he mentions.
The seafront site of the project – approximately 30 minutes away from Oman’s international airport and 45 minutes from capital Muscat – will unfold a building density of over 10 million sq m gross floor area when work starts on several, market-determined phases in the next five to 10 years.
Construction of new infrastructure and first seed-phase projects will commence in the fourth quarter of this year and focus on hotels, residential and other tourism- related uses in the high-end market segments. The project site lies within a triangular peninsula framed by two wadis having a total of 15 km of natural sand beach coastline with a generally flat topography, sand dunes in the southern part of site and deep seawater creek to the northeast of the site.
The dominant landmarks are the seven tall rock islands off the main beachhead, which will be a significant aspect of the development.
The first phase of the project, however, is expected to occupy not less than 8.5 sq km, with a coastal strip running up to 4.5 km, and will host five beach resorts and hotels providing approximately 2,000 hotel rooms, signature golf course and golf community, 3,000 residential units comprising villas and apartments, and a state-of-the-art aquarium, all at a cost of $1.8 billion, according to Achilles.
Much of this residential space will be available for expatriate ownership, says Achilles.
The development is expected to house more than 20 (mostly five-star) hotels upon completion. “The project aims to attract direct foreign investment and some of the top global players as operators for the facilities. We have received tremendous interest from anchor hotel and leisure operators such as Marriott, St Regis of Starwood, Raffles, Campbell Grey Hotels currently operating Carlisle Bay Hotel in Antigua and OneAldwych in London and many other names,” says Ahmed Janahi, vice-chairman of Al Sawadi Investment and Tourism Company (ASIT) and chairman and CEO of the Bahrain-based AAJ Holdings Company. “We have ensured all necessary measures have been taken to make the project environment-friendly with unique lifestyle reflecting the heritage and authenticity of Oman.”
Blue City will integrate parks, beach promenades and a natural creek reserve as well as maximise the experience and use of waterfront activities and underwater exploration.
“Al Madina Al Zarqa is a clear evidence of the private sector's commitment and contribution in materializing the strategic visions of the Sultanate,” says Mohsin bin Khamis Al Baloshi, undersecretary at the Ministry of tourism.
“Al Madina Al Zarqa is backed by a Royal decree that designated it as a strategic touristic zone. We are witnessing the birth of an entire new city which will position the sultanate as a prominent multidisciplinary living destination across the globe,” Anees Issa chairman and managing director of ASIT points out.
When finished, Blue City will have a full scope of efficient, reliable, state-of-the-art infrastructure, buildings and tenant services provided by specialty companies, in cooperation with Oman government.