LONDON: A new “city within a city” is being planned in Riyadh, backed by the Saudi Arabian sovereign investor, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
The development — called Al Widyan — will comprise residential, commercial, retail and leisure facilities on a 7 million square meter site to the north of the capital, and will take seven years to complete. Initial work has already begun.
Al Akaria Saudi Real Estate Company (SRECO), a Tadawul-listed developer 65 per cent owned by PIF, announced the development, with a price tag of SR10 billion ($2.66 billion) for the first phase.
The project will be the first in the Kingdom outside an economic development zone to be granted the status of “self regulatory office,” an initiative aimed at simplifying and speeding planning approvals and reducing building bureaucracy.
Abdulrahman Almofadhi, chairman of SRECO, said: “Al Widyan will be a new paradigm for community living in the Kingdom and will embody the spirit of the new Saudi Arabia, the power of human talent to conceptualise and develop the future that we aspire to for our children, communities and nation.”
Al Widyan — which means “valleys” in Arabic - will be a self-sustaining community, Almofadhi told Arab News, with a strong emphasis on health care, wellness, education and lifestyle.
“It will be a city on its own, with an eye on the lifestyle of its inhabitants. We have designed into it huge swathes of land as open areas, including 200,000 trees and a 600,000 square meter ‘central park,” he said.
“It will be the first of its kind, designed by American and British partners, according to international standards, and also designed to be a catalyst for future development. It is also manifesting a lot of the principles of the Vision 2030 strategy, and we are playing our part in diligently working towards that. It is important the quality of life of citizens is improved,” he added.
The initial phase of the project will be part funded by a SR1.5 billion loan from PIF, and Almofadhi said the final cost will be decided by the market. But he held out the prospect that Al Widyan, currently a subsidiary of SRECO, might eventually be floated on the Saudi Stock exchange.
“We are now working towards establishing a fund through which investors can join with us. Al Widyan is going to be a big company down the road and we are open to welcoming public and private investors,” he said.
There are no plans for PIF to sell down some of its stake in SRECO, he insisted. “We do not expect that to happen. One of the main goals of PIF is to use real estate as an agent of change in Saudi Arabia. There is a need for better housing in the Kingdom and PIF is paying great attention to that,” he said.
He thanked the Riyadh municipal government for granting Al Widyan special status.
“I am excited by the prospect of becoming the first private self-regulated development. It is the only private project in the Kingdom to have this, and I believe it will allow us to de-risk the development and reduce its complexity. It will enable us to put it on the fast track,” he said.
A statement from SRECO said the site is in the northern growth corridor of Riyadh, 15 minutes away from the international airport and 20 minutes away from downtown. Its prime location puts it within reach of a population of over 8 million people.
Further details of the project, including impressions of exactly how it will look, will be revealed in October.