Saudi gigaprojects propel construction sector

8 March 2024

Latest news on Saudi Arabia’s construction sector:

Saudi’s Ceer and MBL confirm electric car plant deal
Dogus and Aces sign Saudi data centres deal
Four Seasons to develop Red Sea hotel

Neom appoints architect for Gidori
Qiddiya unveils Speed Park racetrack
Foster & Partners wins 2km-tall tower
PIF firm tenders Jeddah mixed-use project
> Saudi Arabia’s The Rig signs project agreement


 

Following one of the best years for project contract awards in Saudi Arabia, 2024 has so far lived up to expectations, with contracts worth over $8bn awarded in the kingdom’s construction sector in the first two months.

The majority of these awards are for work on the gigaprojects programme, which is backed by Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In early January, Italian contractor WeBuild secured a record-breaking $4.7bn contract to construct three dams that will create a lake at the centre of the Trojena mountain resort, located within the Neom gigaproject.

The project has an aggressive delivery schedule because the lake – and the surrounding resort and ski slopes – must be ready for the Asian Winter Games in 2029.

Many of Saudi Arabia’s projects have event-driven deadlines and will have to be prioritised and delivered on time.

For example, in February a joint venture of Belgian contractor Besix and local Albawani was awarded an estimated SR3.7bn ($1bn) contract to build a new football stadium in Dammam. The facility will host international tournaments such as the 2027 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup and the 2034 Fifa World Cup.

Major 2024 awards

The other significant contract awards so far this year include a $1.8bn contract by Jeddah Central Development Company (JCDC) for the construction of Jeddah Central Stadium and an estimated SR4.6bn ($1.2bn) contract by Saudi electric car manufacturer Ceer to build its first electric vehicle production plant at King Abdullah Economic City on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.

JCDC and local contractor Modern Building Leaders also signed two major contracts worth a combined $900m to build an opera house and an oceanarium in the first phase of the Jeddah Central project.

In January, Qiddiya Investment Company also awarded a SR1.8bn ($480m) contract for the construction of a racetrack and associated infrastructure at the Speed Park at the Qiddiya entertainment city gigaproject.

Looking ahead, contract activity is set to continue for both the gigaprojects and the broader Saudi market. According to data from regional projects tracker MEED Projects, schemes worth $56bn are in the bidding phase in the construction sector and are due for imminent award.

Major construction schemes for all five of the official gigaprojects are in the advanced stages. These include Neom’s $8bn community housing public-private partnership (PPP) programme and $6.4bn of construction work at the port at Oxagon.

The other schemes under negotiation include completing the remaining works on what will be the world’s tallest tower. Contractors were allowed until the end of February to submit their bids for the Jeddah Tower.

The market is also awaiting the tender for a contract to build the Mukaab district, the centrepiece of the New Murabba development in Riyadh. The estimated $5.5bn package will encompass the construction works on the Mukaab structure and the surrounding podium areas, covering about 1.7 million square metres.

The other significant gigaprojects-related schemes due for procurement in the coming months include the development of the Superblock Five cluster at Rua Al Madinah, which covers the construction of 18 hotels, and developing an offshore tourism destination in the Gulf called The Rig.

The market will be supported by the announcement that Saudi Arabia will host Expo 2030 in Riyadh. The kingdom has also emerged as the sole bidder to host the 2034 Fifa World Cup, in addition to the AFC Asian Cup in 2027, the Asian Winter Games in 2029 and the Asian Games in 2034.

Burgeoning opportunities

Amid subdued activity elsewhere in the broader GCC region, the kingdom’s construction market has become the prime target for local and international contractors, with its thousands of project packages in the pipeline expected to drive project spending and opportunities for many years to come.

Regional and international contractors are also expected to continue supporting the construction pipeline, while PPP-structured deals are likely to increase as the country’s burgeoning project expenditures and need for financing outstrip the PIF’s capacity.

As the activity ramps up in the country, bigger questions remain: how will Saudi Arabia deliver all of these projects, and does it have a big enough workforce with sufficient expertise to do so?

The PIF’s move to establish national champions in the contracting sector, capable of delivering its giant schemes, was the first step in the process, with the investment of $1.3bn in four local construction companies in February last year. This year, the PIF and National Infrastructure Fund (Infra) have created a construction finance programme to improve contractors’ cash flows and help the industry to deliver projects more effectively.

The changes under way in the Saudi construction sector are truly seismic. All the available assets in the sector – and more – will need to come together to realise the country’s 2030 project ambitions.

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Yasir Iqbal
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