RIYADH: As the first phase of its project to develop historical Diriyah gets underway, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) gave a reassurance that the project will cause little to no impact on the surrounding community.
“We pride ourselves at DGDA on being a good neighbor, and that’s what a good neighbor is all about,” said Jonathan Timms, DGDA’s chief design and development officer, told Arab News.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard with various government agencies on our environmental impact plan, to ensure that noise, dust, all sorts of impacts have been minimized as much as possible,” Timms added.
He said that the 7 square kilometers of Diriyah, dubbed the Jewel of the Kingdom, will be transformed into Saudi Arabia’s foremost, cultural, and lifestyle destination.
Introducing more than 18 cultural retail, education, hospitality, and lifestyle offerings across DGDA, the project will have a big impact on the local Diriyah economy, he said.
He said that the project, the largest heritage and cultural project in the world, was not affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We’re all working at breakneck speed and making a lot of progress.”
Timms said that the construction of Bujairi district starts with a complete infrastructure upgrade for the neighborhood, delivering a modern, convenient pedestrian-friendly public realm and streetscape for the community.
“We’re completely redoing the traffic. And then around the infrastructure, we also have a number of assets that are being fast-tracked,” he said.
“We’ve already started construction on the Diriyah Art Oasis, which will house Saudi Arabian contemporary art. We’re also about to start construction on the 150-room Samhan heritage hotel, recreating some of the mud ruins from the first and second Saudi state.”
A total of 34 hotels are planned across the two master plans, 24 resort and urban hotels within Diriyah, and 10 resort hotels in Wadi Safar.
DGDA is working on a signature food and beverage development at Diriyah Square, which will overlook the UNESCO world heritage site, Turaif quarter, and will have more than 20 high-end restaurants.
There will be a range of fine and casual dining offers, as well as some coffee shops. “We’re trying to celebrate some of the local Saudi cuisine as well as the latest international offer.”
DGDA will introduce a food hall, a modern concept coming primarily from Europe that will be adjusted to fit the local cuisine.
Timms said that they were commencing their first phase of the restoration of Wadi Hanifa. “Over time, the wadi has lost some of its historic palm groves and historic agriculture, and our plan is to restore all of that and together create a range of experiences for both local Saudi families and tourists to come and experience the wadi as it has been for hundreds of years, with some passive and active recreational opportunities,” he said.
DGDA will integrate the sports boulevard project by the Royal Commission for Riyadh into the Wadi Hanifa redevelopment plans.
Upon the project’s completion, DGDA expects to create between 30,000 to 50,000 jobs, said Timms, with the local population growing to 100,000.
He believes that the whole development is an authentic response to the traditional Najdi architecture of Turaif adapted for modern living.
“I think the vision we want to bring to life is that in many ways, within historical Diriyah development, you’ll be able to live very similarly to how people would have lived in terms of their urban interactions hundreds of years ago, but you’ll be able to do that with the convenience that you’d expect in a modern community,” he said.
He added: “We are really respectful of the rules around the UNESCO world heritage site and its buffer zones. We have visual cues with Turaif but we also have a separation to ensure that that’s not impacted.”