JEDDAH, 11 January 2007 — Municipal officials said yesterday that the newly formed Jeddah Urban Development Company would restore the city’s historic Al-Balad district. The company aims to convert the heritage zone with its historical buildings and handicraft centers to a tourist spot in the fashion of Khan El-Khalili in Cairo.
The cost of the repair works in the first phase is estimated to be about SR10 million ($2.6 million). The mayor’s office has allocated SR15 million for paving downtown sidewalks and expanding electrical infrastructure in the area.
“The mayor’s office plans to develop the historic center, which the Kingdom is striving to include in the UN’s World Heritage list,” Adnan Adas, director for urban development in the historical zone, told Arab News yesterday. “It is with this objective that an urban development company for Jeddah has been established.”
Saudi Arabia has until Feb. 1 to formally submit its nominations for UNESCO’s World Heritage classification for approval, a process that takes about 18 months.
Jeddah city authorities may be scrambling to get their own historic revival efforts under way, as this is one of the requirements for UN World Heritage status, which opens the way for global cooperation in local historic conservation efforts.
“The company is currently negotiating with 30 building owners for the restoration of 13 buildings as part of the first phase of the plan,” said Adas. “The company will accept any sale offers,” he added.
He said that an agreement was signed previously with an international company and a local company to restore the historical buildings over a period of six months.
Hundreds of well-known shops and busy souqs, such as Gabil Souk, Alawiyyin Souk and Al-Badawi Souk are located in Al-Balad. Adnan said the authorities would take steps to guarantee the historical features of the buildings and that they are not damaged by commercial activities in the area.
The restoration activities will be undertaken in collaboration and coordination of the company with the Jeddah Mayor’s office and the Supreme Commission for Tourism exploiting indigenous and international know-how.