By Colin Foreman
Oman has established itself as the next ‘hot’ construction market in the Middle East with the launch of the Blue City, one of the biggest and boldest waterfront mega-projects so far in the region.
Once the sleepy backwater of the GCC construction industry, Oman has established itself on the radar screens of every contractor in the region with the launch of the massive US $15 billion (OR5.8 billion) Blue City project.
And according to the developers, there will be enough work to keep local, regional and international construction companies busy for the next 15 years.
Developed by the locally-based Al Sawadi Investment & Tourism Company (ASIT), the mixed-use development will be built in 10 phases over the next 15 years, with a tentative final completion date set for 2020.
“The first phase of the project is expected to occupy not less than 8.5 km2 with a coastal strip running up to 4.5 km,” explained ASIT vice chairman, Ahmed Abubaker Janahi.
Work on the project is expected to start by the fourth quarter of this year. It will pave the way for construction of five beach resorts and hotels providing approximately 2000 hotel rooms, a signature golf course and golf community, approximately 1000 residential units and a state-of- the-art aquarium.
The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by 2009 with an anticipated cost of US $1.8 billion.
The development will be divided into 10 main construction packages, according to Heiko Achilles, chief executive officer of ReeMoon — the client’s project representative.
He stressed that the project is large enough to provide work for international, regional and local contractors.
Achilles added that five consultancies have already pre-qualified for the project management and an award is expected imminently.
The first construction contracts to be awarded will be for the enabling works and infrastructure and services, due to commence later this year.
The site itself sits on 34 km2 of land behind 15 km of beach and between two wadis, some 30 minutes away from Oman’s international airport and 45 miutes from Muscat.
There is a deep seawater creek to the north-east of the site, and seven tall rock islands off the main beach that are home to a historic watchtower.
The development’s residential property will be available as freehold, and when complete will be home to more than 200 000 permanent residents.
The developers, together with the Omani government, believe that by developing a city rather than a resort, they will create the critical mass necessary to create a new destination of regional and international significance.
By doing so, the country hopes to build on its reputation of being a new unspoiled destination, offering an authentic Arabian heritage experience, in a safe environment with no political, religious, social conflicts.
The government has identified the labour-intensive tourism sector as one which will create much needed jobs for the sultanate’s growing population.
In 2004, it set up a separate Ministry of Tourism to centralise all tourism-related activities.
According to Anees Issa, chairman and managing director of ASIT, phase one of Blue City alone is expected to create approximately 7000 construction jobs, along with 25 000 other indirect job opportunities.