AMMAN: Bahaa Hariri – founder and chairman of the Horizon Group, a property development and investment group operating in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon – fresh from opening a mega project in Amman, insists on betting against all security and economic challenges prevailing in Lebanon by pledging to continue his investments in the country.
“I believe in the story of Lebanon and I am willing to invest more in the country,” he told The Daily Star in an interview in Amman Wednesday.
Hariri’s remarks came after the official opening of The Boulevard, a $423 million project located at the heart of Abdali, Amman’s new downtown district.
One of the most recent projects started by the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon is ABC Verdun, launched as a joint development between ABC and Verdun 1544 Holding, a real estate company owned by the young billionaire.
“We are making a bold bet to say that three or four years down the line at the end of the construction phase of ABC, the situation in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq will get better,” he said.
“We are making a bet and usually this is wild but we also have our calculations whether in terms of political or economic assessment,” he added. “We truly see the light at the end of the tunnel whether it is in Lebanon, Syria or Iraq.”
Munther Haddadin, chairman of Abdali Boulevard Company, vice chairman of Abdali Investment and Development PSC, was also upbeat about the project.
“We have completed around 60 percent of the first phase of Abdali estimated at $1.5 billion and The Boulevard constitutes one-third of this investment,” Haddadin said.
In his speech, Haddadin praised the king for continuously implementing projects with the aim of improving the income level of Jordanians. “The huge projects which your majesty have previously opened in water, energy, transport, airport and road sectors made a great difference on the economic front and enabled Jordan to face all challenges,” he said.
Joseph Helou, chairman of Abdali Investment and Development PSC, gave a brief overview of the project since its inception. “The project started in 2003 with a vision by King Abdullah and it was enhanced by [then-]Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to form Abdali Investment and Development.”
Bahaa Hariri has shown over the past years a very high and continuous interest in investing in Jordan.
But the young businessman stressed that his investments are of equal importance in both Lebanon and Jordan.
“My investments in Lebanon and Jordan are of equal importance in terms of equity. Half of my investments are in Lebanon,” he said.
But he continued: “You have already built a city center in Beirut and I usually like big projects. There are limitations of what type of big projects you can move forward with in Beirut due to the prevailing security situation and I hope that it gets better very soon for us to get more involved in Lebanon.”
He added that the current security situation in Lebanon did not allow him to make more moves in this aspect, but he tried his best to move forward with projects in Lebanon from outside the country.
“I hope in the coming two or three years more projects will be implemented,” he added.
While showing a great interest in maintaining an important portfolio of investments in Lebanon, Hariri emphasized the importance of investing in Jordan as well, which he believes will be of support for the whole region. “Investing in high-end projects in Jordan does not pose a threat to other countries such as Lebanon in terms of competition but on the contrary diversity is important in the region and it will benefit everyone,” he said.
“I truly believe in the doctrine of King Abdullah and that of Rafik Hariri which considers tourism to be complementary in the region,” he said. “The more you have diversity the better because you cannot expect people to come to the region to see Dubai only for instance,” he added. “Foreign tourists need to be able to enjoy a variety of destinations and by that I mean Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Dubai and others.”
Hariri strongly believes as well that Jordan is a hub with a great potential to attract local, regional and global businessmen.
He cited for instance the high presence of a well-established Iraqi diaspora in Jordan which would be translated into investments by Iraqis once the situation in their country settles down. “There are 1.2 million Iraqis in Jordan so stability in Iraq means historically the doorway of Iraq to Jordan,” he said.
The Abdali project, itself estimated to be worth over $5 billion, is the largest mixed-use development project ever constructed in the heart of the Jordanian capital. It will cover 384,000 square meters of land and comprise a total area of over 1.8 million square meters.
Abdali is a joint venture between the government-owned real estate developer National Resources and Development Corporation and Horizon International for Development Ltd. Co., a construction conglomerate owned by Hariri.
The joint venture is also in partnership with the United Real Estate Company, which is part of the Kuwait Projects Company.
The overall Abdali project is divided into two phases. Phase I is a planned pedestrian-oriented mixed-use community consisting of residential apartments, office spaces, retail outlets and hotels over a built-up area of 1,000,000 square meters.
It comprises buildings that are an average 30-meters high, in addition to retail space of 22,000 square meters, leasable rooftop areas and terraces of 18,000 square meters, 120 retail outlets, 400 luxurious serviced apartments, 30,000 square meters of offices and 1,700 underground parking spaces.
Phase II will feature a central dynamic park across 30,000 square meters of land, serving as a focal theme for mainly residential development as well as offices, hotels and retail developments over 800,000 square meters.
The project has 47 developments, and out of the 47 around 18 have been completed, with June 11 witnessing the inauguration of the biggest one, which is The Boulevard, by King Abdullah II Ibn al-Hussein in the attendance of Abdali and The Boulevard shareholders, prominent figures from across the region and the world, government officials as well as local, regional and international media.
The Boulevard, a 370-meter-long and 21-meter-wide outdoor pedestrian spine bordered by 12 buildings, consists of retail outlets, luxurious serviced apartments, scenic rooftops and office spaces over a total land area of 26,539 square meters and a built-up area of 226,000 square meters.
During his interview with The Daily Star earlier in the day, Hariri mentioned that the project started as a joint meeting between King Abdullah and his father 14 years ago. “My father and King Abdullah were discussing ways of attracting investments to Jordan and the idea came up,” he said.
Hariri praised King Abdullah for placing an equal importance on security as well as on the economic stability in the country. “His majesty truly thinks that security in terms of intelligence and military are very necessary but of equal importance to him is the economic security as well,” he said.
“Abdali will surely provide economic security to the country as it will provide around 20,000 job opportunities,” he added.
Earlier during the day, a news conference was held by George Amireh, chief executive officer of Abdali Investment and Development PSC, who said that the project has so far provided around 5,000 jobs.
Amireh underlined the importance of such a project in attracting huge investments in Jordan by saying that Abdali would provide investors with great facilities including a very well developed infrastructure that comprises advanced telecommunications techniques such as fiber optics, IPTV and huge bandwidth to help major companies in establishing themselves in Jordan.
“We are also offering investors exemptions from customs and taxes by the Jordanian government.”
Asked about the possibility of having empty spaces in Abdali similar to what happened with Solidere following past security and political disturbances, Taher Jaghbir, CEO of The Boulevard, said that the security stability prevailing in Jordan would turn Abdali into a successful project. “However, it will take a bit of time to reap the benefit of these investments as in all projects.”