JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city of Jeddah will soon undergo a major face-lift, thanks to an eagerly awaited redevelopment plan. It aims to transform this coastal jewel into one of the world’s most livable cities by the end of the decade.
Unveiled in December by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the $20 billion Jeddah Central project will revamp and revitalize about 5.7 million square meters of picturesque waterfront, stretching north from Al-Salam Palace to the city’s water-treatment plant.
The development will include a state-of-the-art oceanarium, an opera house and a sports stadium, alongside more than 17,000 residential units, 2,700 hotel rooms, a marina, a beach and several green spaces covering about 40 percent of the project area.
Phase one will include the creation of one of the largest public beaches in Jeddah, with a pier, marina, park and playground alongside the promenade, all of which are scheduled for completion by 2027.
Phase two, due to be completed by 2030, encompasses a number of key facilities, including green spaces, innovative educational resources, a mosque that will combine both modern and traditional designs, a library, a coral bay, and a smart technology-equipped museum.
According to the project’s website, the third phase, beyond 2030, will further enhance the facilities with the addition of healthcare facilities designed to the highest international standards, while a district centered around innovation and culture will deliver world-class experiences.
Jeddah’s history stretches back about 3,000 years to a time when it was a small fishing village. As the centuries passed it grew into a major international port, part of a primary pilgrimage route, and a cultural and commercial destination in its own right.
In the first Islamic era, during the third caliphate that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Uthman ibn Affan declared the city the gateway port to the holy city of Makkah. But it was not until the absorption by Ibn Saud (King Abdulaziz) of Hejaz in 1925 into the kingdom of Nejd to form Saudi Arabia that Jeddah got the special attention it deserved.
The planners of the Jeddah Central project have drawn inspiration from the city’s rich history and distinct cultural identity, while paying homage to its modern-day diversity and recognizing its future potential as a global destination.
They say they are keen to preserve, renew or repurpose existing landmarks, including the city’s old water-treatment plant, a government hospital, and a soccer stadium that can hold up to 24,000 fans.
“The Tahlia (water-treatment plant) location is state property as is the other, and there has been zero land expropriation because the state-owned land deeds have been transferred to the Public Investment Fund. PIF owns our company, and we have the right to make use of the site that makes up 5.7 million square meters of state-owned land,” Ahmed Al-Sulaim, CEO of Jeddah Central Development Company, said in an interview with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ekhbariyah news channel.
The water-treatment plant will be converted into a museum showcasing the Kingdom’s industrial heritage, the history of its quest for fresh water through the years, and its relationship with the sea.
The oceanarium, considered one of the development’s key attractions, will be a celebration of the Red Sea and its natural environment, ecology and marine life. It aims to help establish Jeddah as a regional and global leader in the conservation of marine environments.
For Musaed Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi architect, extracting the greatest possible value from this unique development site is a top priority. He told Arab News that the area covered by the Jeddah Central project is one of the most sophisticated high-rise, government-owned plots of land in the city, worth more than $25 billion.
He said that the amenities and attractions expected to be built as part of the development will attract additional revenue to the area and help to improve the standard of living for residents.
With several ongoing development projects already underway in the city, Al-Ghamdi believes that one of the aims of the Jeddah Central project will be to provide housing to meet the needs of a new generation of young professionals and improve overall urban-living standards.
“Once you fix and adjust the urban planning of a city or an area, you’ll find it positively reflects on the people’s attitudes, perceptions of their surroundings, and in return you’ll find that you’re enhancing the well-being of a community,” he said.
Among the more than 200 firms that bid on the project, the final selection came down to a choice that included four major international developers. In the end it was Jeddah-based Hosam Alabdulkarim Architectural and Engineering Consultants that secured one of four contracts designated for the project.
The area under development will be divided into six districts with facilities geared toward both residents and tourists. Along the shore, the marina district will include open green spaces, entertainment venues, retail outlets and dining options overlooking the Red Sea.
Further along the waterfront, the beach district will offer a sandy shoreline and promenades connecting visitors with the many planned entertainment, leisure and dining facilities. The sports district will include parks, courtyards and plazas to encourage residents to maintain healthy and active lifestyles.
A vibrant cultural and creativity district will serve to promote and support the arts, innovation and sustainability, while a wellness district will offer medical centers, clinics and research facilities.
Finally, the central district will serve as a hub for local and international tourists, allowing them to experience Jeddah’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.
“The city has been growing for ages but there’s always a critical issue with urban planning,” said Al-Ghamdi.
“If you improve public transport, provide easy access to facilities such as parks and services in the area, integrate green spaces into the plan, maintain upkeep of urban space and public spaces based on residents’ needs and requirements, then you will elevate the quality of life for the residents of the city.”