BEIRUT: The fountain is flowing, the bike path is paved, and the grass is springy and new. The Rene Mouawad Garden, known as Sanayeh Park, appears ready to be opened to the public on June 1 following a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 31 hosted by the Beirut Municipality and the Azadea Foundation, the Beirut-based luxury retail holding company that funded the renovation of the garden.
Visitors to the old park will recognize the original layout with a few new additions. The park now boasts bike and jogging paths around the perimeter, three small playgrounds and an outdoor performance space. All of the original trees have been trimmed and preserved, with newly planted grass and flower beds. The large central fountain, dry for years, has been cleaned and filled, and the splashing of water is almost enough to drown out the sounds of traffic and nearby construction.
During a press preview Wednesday, Azadea deputy CEO Marwan Moukarzel said the garden would remain free and open to the public under the auspices of the Beirut municipality. Azadea has signed a renewable contract to oversee maintenance for the next 10 years, and has contracted Middle East Security to provide guards during opening hours. Moukarzel promised the guards would undergo strict training on how to deal with the public.
The park will remain open for approximately 12 hours a day, closing in the evenings, Moukarzel said. The rules for the park include bans on water pipes, barbecuing and damaging the flora. Dogs will be allowed initially and as long as owners are vigilant in cleaning up after their pets.
Praising the municipality’s cooperation, Moukarzel said he hoped to set an example for the private sector to take initiative where the public sector had failed to do so.
“CSR [corporate social responsibility] is a great way for a company to do good for the community and at the same time remain competitive in the market,” he said, adding that it would be “nontransparent” to deny the positive publicity such projects bring to the brand.
“We’ve got 1,100 employees in Lebanon ... we want them to be proud that their company is making a difference in their [community] and with their families,” he said. “As for my customers, I want them to start looking at us as a company that not only sells whatever it sells, [but] is also ... going beyond that point of sale.”
The renovations, which began last year, cost a total of $2.5 million. The company has pledged several hundred thousand dollars a year in maintenance and upkeep as well.
It remains to be seen whether the park will win the approval of local residents, many of whom were skeptical early on following an aborted attempt by the municipality to turn Sanayeh Park into a parking lot. Mayor Bilal Hamad has denied the plans ever moved beyond the preliminary stage. The municipality continues, however, to pursue plans to dig up several other parks in the city to install garages before replanting the areas, a strategy that has been heavily criticized by residents, activists and urban planners.