An iconic Riyadh Metro station ... fast nearing completion.

An iconic Riyadh Metro station ... fast nearing completion.

Mega-metropolis in the making

Riyadh is in the midst of an economic revolution the likes of which the world has not seen, says the president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. The capital city has ambitions to transform into a mega-metropolis and an entertainment hub, supported by over $55-billion projects.

March 2020

Riyadh is dreaming big. Ambitions abound for the capital which, among its many goals, is looking at developing into a mega-metropolis in the Middle East and a leisure and entertainment hub. More than 420 projects worth a whopping SR206.25 billion ($55 billion) are expected to be flagged off over the next decade, with most of them involving private sector investment.

The capital city is also gearing up to stage the highly prestigious G20 Summit later this year and has been hosting a series of meetings including the U20 (urban planning) and the B20 (business community engagement forum) where delegates from the G20 countries have been sampling what the city intends to offer.

The only GCC country to be a member of the G20, Saudi Arabia undoubtedly will use this unique opportunity to showcase the kingdom’s future-focused plans as it spearheads its Vision 2030 programme to diversify its oil revenue-reliant economy.

According to Fahd Al-Rasheed, who last November took up the role of president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) – the city’s ultimate planning and development authority, formerly known as Riyadh Development Authority – Riyadh’s population could double by 2030, with a planned growth of eight per cent per year. This is in line with the kingdom’s plan to make the capital a “mega-metropolis” in the Middle East, said an Arab News report.

Diriyah is being developed as Riyadh’s new global cultural and lifestyle destination.

Diriyah is being developed as Riyadh’s new global cultural and lifestyle destination.

Al-Rasheed was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos last January.

“Riyadh is already the biggest urban economy in the region, but the scale and leverage this plan brings will turn it into a mega-metropolis. What we’re going to see in Riyadh is an economic revolution the likes of which the world has not seen,” the commission president was quoted as saying in the report.

He added that the aim was to make Riyadh a more sustainable, mobile and livable city, with family facilities, sports, events, health facilities and schools.

According to Al-Rasheed, the Royal Commission is planning some 424 initiatives of varying sizes over the next decade worth a total of SR206.25 billion ($55 billion). The projects are expected to be open to private sector investment.

He said that the Riyadh Metro and the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) projects would be “soft-launched” in time for the G20 meeting of global leaders in November.

Work on the $22.5-billion metro project, which extends a total of 176 km, is at an advanced stage. According to an International Railway Journal report, lines 2, 3 and 4 – one line from each of the three consortiums responsible for building the six-line metro – will be the first to be opened.

Work is also in progress on the upgrade and expansion of King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, where two terminals (3 and 4) are being built and the corridor connecting the two buildings is being expanded to turn it into a passenger check-in area. Meanwhile, plans for a giant cargo terminal were given the go-ahead early this year.  Under the agreement, Singapore company SATS will build its cargo terminal in two stages covering a total area of 60,000 sq m. The first phase of construction is expected to be finished by mid-2022.

King Abdullah Financial District ... soft-launch likely in time for the G20 meeting.

King Abdullah Financial District ... soft-launch likely in time for the G20 meeting.

In addition to the metro and the KAFD, the Royal Commission is overseeing several other urban initiatives, including the historical Addiriyah development programme and the King Abdulaziz Historical Center Project.

The Royal Commission of Riyadh City has also embarked on four transformative projects worth $23 billion, dubbed as “well-being projects”, that aim to touch every aspect of human life including health, entertainment, sustainability, sports, plantation, art, biodiversity, economic and well-being.

King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh, and Riyadh Art projects are pivotal in Saudi capital’s ambitions of becoming one of the most livable cities on the planet. They complement Saudi Vision 2030’s ‘Quality of Life’ programme and are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to create sustainable cities and communities, while driving urgent action against climate change.

Green Riyadh, the most extensive and far-reaching of the four projects, is a citywide greening initiative that includes the planting of 7.5 million trees, and aims to lower the temperature of the city by 2 degrees C and provide shade, allowing residents to walk and exercise outdoors. The project aims to increase the green cover from the current 1.51 to 9.1 per cent (amounting to 541 sq km) by 2030.

 King Salman Park will be the largest city park in the world, covering an area of 13.4 sq km, four times the area of Central Park in New York. Being built on land previously occupied by King Salman Air Base (old Riyadh airport), the centrally located park will be connected to six major roadways. It will comprise green areas and open spaces over 9.3 million sq m, gardens over 400,000 sq m, a 7.2-km circular walking trail, an 800,000-sq-m valley area, and water and aquatic elements covering 300,000 sq m.

The park will host a Royal Arts Complex covering an area of more than 400,000 sq m that will have a 2,500-seat national theatre, five enclosed theatres of various sizes, an open-air theatre for 8,000 spectators, a three-screen cinema, four arts academies, and an educational centre to develop young talent. In addition, there will be seven museums, one each for aviation, astronomy, space, forest, science, architecture and virtual reality.

Green Riyadh ... aiming to increase the green cover from the current 1.51 to 9.1 per cent.

Green Riyadh ... aiming to increase the green cover from the current 1.51 to 9.1 per cent.

To cater to sports activities, King Salman Park  will feature The Royal Golf Green with an area of 850,000 sq m, a sports complex with an area of 50,000 sq m, a virtual reality playroom, a parachute and hot air balloons centre, an equestrian centre, and a running and biking trail.

Among other attractions of the park are an 80,000-sq-m knowledge, cultural and environmental centre, interactive park exhibitions, multipurpose halls, meeting rooms, as well as tree and plant nurseries, open spaces and areas, a 100,000-sq-m recreation and playground area, a 140,000-sq-m aquatic park area, a family recreation centre, and an observation deck.

There will also be residential building complexes housing 12,000 units over a 1.6-million-sq-m area, 16 hotels, a 500,000-sq-m area dedicated to restaurants, cafés and retail shops, office buildings covering 600,000 sq m, and various amenities.

King Salman Park is connected to five stations on Riyadh Metro, 10 bus rapid transit stops, while within the park, smart vehicles as well as electrical cars and bikes will be used. Work on the project is expected to complete in 2024.

Sports Boulevard will be a state-of-the-art health and wellness destination in the heart of the city, providing a network of cycle routes and adding an impressive 135 km of professional track. Stretching between the Hanifa and Sulai valleys, the project will offer sports enthusiasts 220 km of biking trails, 123 km of horse riding trails, walking trails around the whole project, stops and rest areas for bikers in both the valleys, 3.5 million sq m of green areas and open spaces, and cafés.

More than 120,000 trees will be planted and irrigated solely with treated wastewater, while monuments and iconic art works – including 10 major monuments – will be installed along the boulevard.

The fourth well-being project, Riyadh Art will establish the city as ‘a gallery without walls’ through a world-class interactive public arts programme. It includes the installation of more than 1,000 works and art landmarks by local and international artists and the largest art programmes in the world.


King Salman Park ... designed to be the largest city park in the world.

King Salman Park ... designed to be the largest city park in the world.

Entertainment hub

In line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Riyadh has unveiled mega plans over the past two years  to transform the capital into a leisure and entertainment hub for the country’s residents as well as international tourists.

The latest announcement came late last month from Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (Seven), a Public Investment Fund (PIF) unit mandated to invest, develop and operate entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia.  The company said that it is developing two entertainment complexes in the capital city – one at Al Hamra and the other at Al Nahda.

The entertainment centre at Al Hamra, located at the intersection of King Abdullah Road and East Ring Road, will serve the densely populated neighbourhoods in the north-east of Riyadh that accommodate more than 2.5 million people within a radius of a 30-minute drive.

Among the most ambitious projects that the capital flagged off is Qiddiya, which aims to be the world’s largest entertainment city. The project was first announced by HRH Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) in April 2017 and the ground-breaking took place in April 2018. Qiddiya aims to open the first phase of the development in 2023, with Phase Two to be developed in 2023-2024, and Phase Three in 2026-2035.

 Among other major projects unveiled last month is a plan to develop a new Greg Norman 27-hole championship golf course in Diriyah. The development will be part of Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s (DGDA) exclusive new residential district – Wadi Safar – in a valley northwest of Riyadh.

Diriyah is being developed as Riyadh’s new global cultural and lifestyle destination and is expected to host leading luxury and lifestyle retail brands as well as over 100 cafes and restaurants.

That there is a vibrant market for Riyadh’s goals and ambitions was amply apparent at the recently concluded Riyadh Season, the kingdom’s biggest entertainment season, which attracted more than 10 million people. It featured more than 100 events, ranging from live performances by international music legends to the first female professional wrestling match to be staged in Saudi Arabia.  These included world-class events such as London’s Winter Wonderland – the famous Hyde Park Christmas attraction, Cirque du Soleil’s “Bazzar”, as well as Riyadh Safari and the traditional cultural Nabd Al-Riyadh.

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