Riyadh builds the world’s largest urban park

21 September 2023


Tucked away from view behind site hoarding in the centre of Riyadh, work is progressing on a project that will transform the heart of the Saudi capital by creating the world’s largest urban park.

The King Salman Park project will cover an area of 16.7 square kilometres, and more than 70 per cent of that space will be green areas.

“The unique aspect of our project when you compare it to others is the amount of green space it will have,” says George Tanasijevich, CEO of King Salman Park Foundation.

“Other projects will have hotel rooms and residential units, but none will have the amount of green space that King Salman Park will have. It will be substantial by global standards.”

The scale of the project becomes apparent when considering public parks in other major cities. It is five times the area of New York’s Central Park, six times the size of London’s Hyde Park, and 16 times larger than Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

The aim of King Salman Park is to give residents of Riyadh access to a world-class park on their doorstep – the park is connected to several main roads and linked to the Riyadh Metro and the city’s bus station.

“People today have to travel to experience green spaces, so we are bringing something here that will allow them the convenience of being at home and experiencing the lifestyle benefits of green space,” says Tanasijevich.

Land at the King Salman Park site has been contoured to create hills

While much of the focus of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is on economic transformation, it also includes targets aimed at improving the quality of life for people in the kingdom.

“There is an economic aspect to what we are doing,” says Tanasijevich. “The primary highlight of our contribution [to Vision 2030] is more focused on lifestyle. It is not just being able to spend time in green spaces, but also all the sports facilities that will encourage younger people to become more interested in sports and athletics.”

Project progress

Launched in March 2019, there has been significant progress on the construction of the project. Much of the land has been shaped and contoured to create hills that will break up Riyadh’s typically flat topography.

Work is also advancing on infrastructure and buildings, including the Royal Arts Complex and a visitor centre.

“What we are trying to do is put together components that work together as a standalone project that are self-sustaining. We do not want people to visit and feel something is missing,” says Tanasijevich. 

“We are going to have enough variety and elements in there that even when we open phase one, people are going to embrace it and find a multitude of ways to experience it.”

As construction advances, the project took a major step forward on the first day of the Cityscape Global exhibition, which was held in Riyadh on 10-13 September. There, the King Salman Park Real Estate Development Fund was launched, with the aim of developing the first real estate investment plot within the site.

The fund will bring in fresh financing for a SR4bn ($1.1bn) mixed-use project that will have more than 1,500 residential units together with offices, retail outlets, hotels, schools and other public amenities on a 290,000 square-metre site.

Saudi Fransi Capital is the fund manager and King Salman Park Investment & Real Estate Development Company is the master developer. Naif al-Rajhi Investment Company is the real estate developer and master lessee of the entire project.

Images: King Salman Park Foundation

Colin Foreman
Related Articles
  • Abu Dhabi starts battery storage prequalification

    27 May 2024


    Register for MEED's guest programme 

    Interested developers and developer consortiums have submitted their statements of qualifications (SOQs) for a contract to develop an independent 400MW battery energy storage system (bess) power project in Abu Dhabi.

    State offtaker Emirates Water & Electricity Company (Ewec) received the SOQs on 20 May, according to industry sources.

    Ewec issued the request for prequalifications for the contract on 2 May.

    Called Bess 1, the project will closely follow the model of Ewec's independent power project (IPP) programme, in which developers enter into a long-term energy storage agreement (ESA) with Ewec as the sole procurer.

    The first plant will be in Al Bihouth, approximately 45 kilometres (km) southwest of Abu Dhabi, and the second plant will be in Madinat Zayed, about 160km southwest of the city.  

    The facilities will be able to store and discharge 400MW of power for not less than one hour throughout the ESA term. The project also covers ancillary equipment, associated infrastructure and facilities.

    Each plant will have no less than 200 megawatt-hours of energy storage capacity.

    The project has attracted strong interest among developers, resulting in a highly competitive bidding process, one of the sources tells MEED.

    The project will be structured as a standalone IPP and will be developed on a build-own-operate basis.

    The ESA will be for 15 years, commencing on the project's commercial operation date, which falls in the third quarter of 2026. 

    According to Ewec, the bess project will provide additional flexibility to the system and ancillary services such as frequency response and voltage regulation.

    "Bess technology will play a crucial role in Ewec's strategic plan to diversify its portfolio of energy projects with a focus on sustainability, in addition to increasing its total solar photovoltaic power generation capacity to 7.5GW," the firm said upon issuing the expression of interest to developers and developer consortiums in March.

    US-headquartered Sargent & Lundy, London-based Consilium Officium and the US' White & Case are the client's technical, financial and legal advisers for the project, respectively.

    MEED's April 2024 special report on the UAE includes:

    > COMMENT: UAE rides high on non-oil boom
    > GVT & ECONOMY: Non-oil activity underpins UAE economy

    > BANKING: UAE banks seize the moment
    > UPSTREAM: Adnoc oil and gas project spending sees steep uptick
    > DOWNSTREAM: UAE builds its downstream and chemical sectors

    > POWER: UAE marks successful power project deliveries
    > WATER: Dubai tunnels project dominates UAE pipeline
    > DUBAI CONSTRUCTION: Dubai real estate boosts construction sector

    > ABU DHABI CONSTRUCTION: Abu Dhabi makes major construction investments

    Jennifer Aguinaldo
  • Riyadh reins in spending

    24 May 2024


    On the surface, it feels like business as usual in Saudi Arabia as new projects continue to be launched.

    On 8 May, designs for another futuristic project at Neom’s Gulf of Aqaba were released with slick computer-generated imagery. Known as Jaumur (pictured), it includes the development of a mixed-use community featuring 1,200 residential units and two hotels offering 350 rooms. The most eye-catching part of the project is at the marina, which will have a 1.5-kilometre aerofoil that will rise above the yacht berths.

    Beneath the surface, a consensus is emerging that the kingdom’s projects market is in the midst of a recalibration as spending is reined in.

    The challenge for Riyadh over the next few years will be balancing the delivery of its ambitions with the reality of its financial capabilities.

    The first public sign that things were changing came in December 2023, when Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan told reporters at the launch of the 2024 budget that the delivery of some of the projects included in the Saudi Vision 2030 plan may be delayed to avoid pressure on the economy.

    Tightening the purse strings

    The ministry-level decision is trickling down as individual development companies are not getting their full budgets approved. “Our firm is working on almost all of the major projects in Saudi Arabia in some capacity,” says an international consultant. “The feedback we are getting is that budget spending for 2024 has been reduced by about 30% on average.”

    Many of these delivery companies are subsidiaries of sovereign wealth vehicle the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has taken a leading role in transforming the kingdom’s economy over the past eight years with development schemes including its five official gigaprojects, Neom, Roshn, Red Sea Global (RSG), Qiddiya and Diriyah.

    The reports of budget cuts have coincided with a drop in contract awards. According to MEED’s Gigaprojects Tracker, there has been a sharp decline in the value of contracts awarded by the five official gigaprojects this year. 

    In April, they awarded $166m of work, down from $271m in March and $509m in February. The total in January was $5.56bn, largely due to the $4.7bn contract awarded to the local Webuild for the construction of dams at the Trojena mountain resort in Neom.

    The reports of budget cuts have coincided with a drop in contract awards

    Funding options

    The budget cuts are just part of the message, says the consultant. The delivery companies are being told to find external investment to deliver their projects, and there are already signs of this happening. The clearest came in late April, when Neom announced a $2.7bn revolving credit facility from nine local banks to cater to the project’s short-term financing requirements.

    In a statement, Neom CEO Nadhmi Nasser highlighted the project’s drive to find new sources of funding. “As Neom continues to gather pace, this new credit facility, backed by Saudi Arabia’s leading financial institutions, is a natural fit within our wider strategy for funding. We continue to explore a variety of funding sources as we deliver transformational infrastructure assets while supporting the wider Vision 2030 programme,” he said. 

    In a research note following the deal, London-based Capital Economics said: “While this does take some of the onus away from the government and Public Investment Fund, it is increasingly using resources that could be used more productively in the private non-oil sector.”

    Capital Economics also noted that the facility adds to the growing share of commercial banks’ lending to the public sector. Since 2015, this share has increased from 7% to 22% in March 2024.

    Another solution for development companies is deploying public-private partnerships (PPPs) to deliver infrastructure and utilities. This is attractive because PPPs reduce the initial capital expenditure required for a project. 

    RSG has already pursued this route for The Red Sea Project and Amaala; other development companies are exploring the PPP avenue for their projects.

    Real estate investment is another option. There is an expectation that Riyadh will introduce a foreign ownership law that could turbocharge the market as a similar law did for Dubai in the early 2000s. 

    There are already examples of real estate investment deals being done, including the National Housing Company with Spain’s Urbas Group for housing in Riyadh, RSG with Kingdom Holding Company for hotels, and King Salman with a real estate development fund.

    PPP offers budget and efficiency routes

    Prioritising projects

    As projects in the kingdom are developed differently, the challenge for the construction industry will be identifying which of the many schemes that aim to transform the Saudi economy are a top priority.

    Much will depend on the success of the investment drive. The most likely projects to go ahead are those linked to global events with immovable deadlines. Experience across the region over the past decade has shown that even if construction elsewhere slowed down, construction for Expo 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar continued regardless. 

    “For Saudi Arabia, there are three major events: the Asian Winter Games in 2029, Expo 2030 and World Cup 2034. They will be the obvious priorities,” says the international consultant.

    Colin Foreman
  • Baghdad faces mounting pressure

    24 May 2024

    John Bambridge
    Analysis editor

    The role of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al Sudani is becoming an increasingly unenviable one as Iraq wrestles with a combination of political turbulence, weakening growth and a declining security situation.

    On the political front, the potential return to frontline politics by Shia leader Moqtada Al Sadr under the rebranded banner of the National Shiite Movement appears likely to undermine the incumbent Al Sudani by once again dividing the Shia base. While the next national election is not due until October 2025, Al Sadr is a vocal political figure in Iraq whose opposition could cause substantial trouble for Al Sudani in the interim.

    In the north, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is threatening to sit out long-overdue regional parliamentary elections over a Federal Supreme Court decision that threatened to diminish the influence of ethnic minority groups that have traditionally aligned themselves politically with the KDP. The dispute promises to deepen the political chaos in the north.

    On the economic front, weaker oil prices alongside the impact of the Opec-led production cuts are set to drive Baghdad deeper into the red in 2024. Also contributing is Al Sudani’s expansionary 2023 budget, which laid out two years of higher spending, including changes to public sector hiring practices that will drastically increase the country’s wage bill. The latter move, while likely to be politically popular, is expected to raise the cost of salaries and pensions from 15% in 2022 to 25.8% of GDP by 2025. 

    This comes at a time when Baghdad has laid out an economic vision anchored in a $17bn transport corridor linking Al Faw Port and Basra with Mersin Port in Turkiye. The overland logistics route would bypass the Red Sea and Suez Canal, with all its afflictions, as well as provide an alternative to the India-Europe route that was previously backed by several GCC members, but which had been controversially looking at using Israeli ports. It remains to be seen whether the government can mobilise the capital needed for the planned highways and high-speed rail links. 

    Iraq’s security situation also remains patchy. In April, drone attacks at the Khor Mas gas field in Iraqi Kurdistan caused production to halt. There have been many other similar attacks in recent years, leading to the withdrawal of several major oil firms from the country. The inability of Baghdad to stamp out such instances exemplifies the persisting weakness of the overall security situation in the country. It does not bode well either for the oil and gas sector or for Al Sudani’s grand vision for the country as a secure and favourable transport corridor. Iraq needs a credible economic vision for the future, and a strong logistics role is a viable option, but Baghdad’s journey there is likely to be an arduous one.

    MEED's June 2024 market focus on Iraq includes:

    > GOVERNMENT: Al Sudani struggles to maintain Iraq’s political stability
    > ECONOMY: Iraq economic revival faces headwinds
    > SECURITY: Iraq gas field attack to impact projects
    > OIL & GAS: Iraqi oil and gas projects activity dips, but holds
    > POWER: Iraq electricity sector makes slow progress
    > CONSTRUCTION: Iraq steps up post-war revival


    John Bambridge
  • US foreign policy approach remains adrift

    24 May 2024

    Edmund O'Sullivan
    Former editor of MEED

    Former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, said in May that the US has no Middle East strategy and is stumbling from one improvisation to the next.

    Some say this is because Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan both rose to where they are now principally because of their loyalty to the Democratic Party generally and President Joe Biden specifically. Their influence is consequently shaped more by political considerations than a broader understanding of the complexities of international affairs or America’s long-term interests.

    There is little chance that this short-term approach will change, regardless of who wins in November’s presidential poll. Donald Trump is focusing on what will work for him this autumn and, if elected, will likely continue to follow a formula of self-interest; what works for the US in the Middle East will always come second.

    There is little chance that this short-term approach will change

    If there was a golden era for US Middle East policy, it may have begun in 1945 when President Roosevelt met Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Aziz Al Saud to reach an understanding between the world’s most robust democracy and one of the most conservative kingdoms that served the interests of both.

    In 1956, President Eisenhower then intervened to force Britain and France to stop their war on Egypt over the Suez Canal. From then on, the US became the dominant foreign force in much of the region and a welcome alternative to the old imperial powers and the Soviet Union.

    That balance was lost in 1967, however, when President Johnson stood behind Israel despite its expansionary war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

    A brief flicker of hope flared following the 1973 Arab-Israel war, but by then the polarisation in the region was reflected in US policy.

    It was not until 1991, after Iraq had been expelled from Kuwait by a coalition that enjoyed almost unanimous Arab support, that a new opportunity arose for the US to at last develop a strategy that was built on solid foundations. 

    The Madrid conference in October 1991 put Washington at the heart of a multilateral process that aimed to bridge the gap between Israel and the Arab nations. This was destroyed, however, by President Clinton – another political partisan – who opted for the bilateral approach defined by the Oslo agreements of 1993. It was bound to fail, and did.

    Optimists say we will have to wait at least four more years before there is another opportunity for Washington to get it right. Pessimists say it will take longer than that, perhaps a generation or more. But what if they are both wrong and the long-term plan that Ambassador Freeman wants, and we all yearn for, does not actually exist? 

    Connect with Edmund O’Sullivan on Twitter

    More from Edmund O’Sullivan:

    Rainmaking in the world economy
    New shock treatment for Egypt’s economy
    Syria’s long march in from the cold
    Lebanon’s pain captured in a call from Beirut
    Troubled end to 2023 bodes ill for stability
    The Holy Land and delusions it inspires
    Region to mark golden jubilee of 1973 war
    Gulf funds help reshape football
    When a war crime is denied
    Embracing the new Washington consensus

    Edmund O’Sullivan
  • Alcazar Energy $490m fund reaches closing

    24 May 2024

    Luxembourg-registered Alcazar Energy Partners (AEP)-II, a sustainable infrastructure fund focused on utility-scale renewable energy projects in emerging markets, has reached a final closing of $490m.

    According to Dubai-based renewable energy developer Alcazar Energy Partners (AEP), the fund attracted capital from investors in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  

    These include eight additional investors such as the US' International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) since the fund's first closing in November 2022.

    AEP said: "These partners… support AEP-II’s strategy to develop over 1.6GW of clean energy projects across select emerging markets that once operational will mitigate over 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year while generating long-term employment opportunities in the countries in which they operate." 

    So far, AEP-II has successfully acquired the project rights for its first two wind farms with a total capacity of 456MW in the Western Balkans

    In 2021, China Three Gorges, whose shareholders included the International Finance Corporation and the Silk Road Fund, acquired AEP-I's portfolios.

    In the Middle East and North Africa region, Alcazar Energy's projects include two wind farms and a solar power plant in Maan, Jordan, and four solar schemes across Egypt, with a total operational capacity of 411MW.

    Jennifer Aguinaldo