2024-04-23

Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects

From Qiddiya to Neom, these giga-projects are part of Saudi’s Vision 2030.

From Qiddiya to Neom, Saudi Arabia is creating a host of giga-projects and attractions as part the Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) Vision 2030. This aims to diversify the economy and reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil. The giga-projects and new entertainment experiences are designed to stimulate the economy. Each one will generate high financial returns.

Saudi’s entertainment sector is rapidly growing. In January 2023, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, confirmed Diriyah as the PIF’s fifth giga-project. Located on the edge of Riyadh, it joins the country’s existing giga-projects: Neom, Red Sea, Qiddiya and Roshn.

The kingdom has plenty of smaller – but still major – projects in development, too. Saudi Entertainment Ventures, a subsidiary of the PIF, is investing $13 billion in the development of 21 entertainment destinations. Additional projects include AlUla, the world’s largest living museum, and Amaala, a luxury development with a focus on wellness.

Qiddiya 

Qiddiya, a multibillion-dollar entertainment destination in Riyadh, is set to be the world’s largest entertainment city. It will even surpass Walt Disney World in Florida. Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC) created the giga-project’s masterplan with Bjarke Ingels Group. Guests will have access to more than 300 facilities, including theme parks, water parks and a sports city.

There will be nature and adventure experiences, and events and cultural attractions. In addition, Qiddiya will boast shopping outlets, F&B strips, a performing arts theatre, a multiplex cinema, an aquatic centre, and a motorsports facility. “This is a super exciting project,” Philippe Gas, a Disney veteran and the CEO of Qiddiya, told blooloop. 

“It is the world’s biggest venture when it comes to entertainment, sport, arts, all together and integrated. This has never been done before. So the complexity of it is exciting,” Gas said. “It is almost three times the size of Walt Disney World. It is huge. This is a place that will, by its size, offer people days of entertainment.”

Bigger than Walt Disney World

In February 2022, Qiddiya awarded a $750m construction contract for the first water park in Saudi Arabia, also the largest water park in the Middle East. The park will be home to 22 rides and attractions across nine themed zones and 252,000 square metres. Falcon’s Creative Group, the entertainment design firm, is developing the masterplan. Dewan Architects + Engineers is serving as the project’s lead design consultant.

Six Flags Qiddiya will be the largest and most expensive Six Flags so far. Spread across 79 acres and six themed lands, it will house 28 rides and attractions. These include the world’s tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster, called Falcon’s Flight. Intamin, a creator of record-breaking amusement rides, has partnered with Saudi Arabia’s Qiddiya giga-project to design the ride.

“Roller coaster fans around the world have been eagerly anticipating this ride since it was announced as there is nothing quite like it anywhere else. Now we are in the design stage with the experts at Intamin and the engineering team at Six Flags, the excitement is building,” said Gas.

Falcon’s Flight will “dominate the skyline at Qiddiya”, Gas said. Riders will enjoy panoramic views of Quidiya as they “weave all the way around our destination, right out of the theme park, up the cliffside, and down the cliff face – the greatest drop of any ride in the world; it won’t be for the fainthearted”.

Six Flags Qiddiya will also offer Sirocco Tower, the world’s tallest, free-standing shot tower ride, and Gyrospin, the world’s tallest pendulum ride. Spitfire will be the world’s tallest inverted top hat coaster, and Iron Rattler the world’s tallest tilt coaster. There will be multiple water rides, interactive dark rides and immersive experiences. The park’s lands are called Steam Town, Twilight Gardens, Discovery Springs, City Thrills, Valley of Fortune and Grand Exposition.

“Six Flags Qiddiya will be a family-orientated park with something for everyone. But it will definitely be geared towards the younger crowd. Our research shows that Saudis like thrills and they like to go fast,” Don Potts, Qiddiya’s president of parks and attractions, told blooloop.

City of Thrills is an area for thrill rides, while Discovery Springs is an aquatic-themed zone with an interactive ride called Sea Stallion. Steam Town’s rides include the Iron Rattler Mine Train, Steam Town Falls Water Coaster, and Bull Rider. Twilight Gardens features colourful flowers and friendly creatures, as well as the Twilight Express Coaster and Critter Chase dark ride. Valley of Fortune includes the Spitfire coaster, and Grand Exposition houses the Colossus hybrid coaster.

NEOM

Another giga-project, Neom, was announced in 2017. Saudi Arabia’s $500bn ‘land of the future’ will be 33 times the size of New York City, and nearly the size of Belgium. It will house cognitive cities, ports, research centres, entertainment venues and tourist destinations. Saudi officials have described Neom as “the world’s most ambitious project”. They expect to welcome around one million visitors by 2025 and five million by 2030.

“If we are to solve the challenges of tomorrow, we must face up to them today, no matter how difficult they may seem,” said Neom’s CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr. The project, he said, is “addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity by bringing together a community of the brightest minds committed to reimagining what a sustainable future will look like in 20 to 30 years, and building it today.” He added: “We are redefining the future now. Neom is open for business.”

$500bn ‘land of the future’

Neom’s first luxury island, Sindalah, is due to open in early 2024. Covering approximately 840,000 square metres, Sindalah will offer a marina, golf course, beach club and yacht club, as well as hotels and F&B outlets. Highlights at Neom also include The Line, a zero-carbon city with “vertically layered” buildings for work, living and leisure. Trojena is a mountain resort with a ski village, ski slope, wellness resorts and a nature reserve, and Oxagon is an octagonal floating port city.

The Line will vertically layer homes, workplaces, parks, pedestrian areas and schools within two mirrored facades stretching more than 170 km and rising 500 metres above sea level. Residents will have access to all facilities within a five-minute walk. The Saudi Arabian giga-project city will be just 200 metres wide and will run on 100 percent renewable energy.

Trojena will provide a unique experience with outdoor skiing in a desert climate. “Trojena represents Neom’s values and bold plans as a land where nature and innovative technologies come together to form a unique global experience,” said Al-Nasr. Saudi Arabia has been chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games within Trojena.

Neom, which overlooks the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, aims to become the world’s most competitive free zone. It will also be home to the world’s largest coral garden at Shushah Island. As for technology, Al-Nasr said the infrastructure will use “AI, robotics, and human-machine fusion to deliver greater predictive intelligence and enable faster decision making across all Neom sectors”.

The Red Sea

Red Sea Global is behind the Red Sea, another giga-project in Saudi Arabia with a focus on eco-tourism. Formerly known as the Red Sea Project, the Red Sea is on track to welcome its first visitors in 2023. It is billed as the world’s most sustainable luxury tourism destination. “Our destination is one of extraordinary natural beauty, which we have a responsibility to protect and enhance for future generations,” said John Pagano, group CEO of Red Sea Global.

Red Sea Global, owned by the PIF, is also leading the creation of the neighbouring Amaala development. For both giga-projects, it has awarded over 1,300 contracts worth nearly $8.5bn to date. Pagano said the developer is producing “mega-scale responsible developments that positively shape the futures of both the people who we welcome and employ, and the places in which we operate”.

“We are not only expanding our footprint to help create massive economic opportunities – valued at hundreds of billions worth of riyals – for the people of Saudi Arabia,” he added. “We also want to set new global standards in development and inspire the industry to do better.”

With plans to become the world’s most responsible developer, Red Sea Global is exploring and implementing ideas such as green concrete to limit emissions, clean mobility strategies, and sustainable food production. The destination will, of course, be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. In 2021, Red Sea Global partnered with biotechnology firm Blue Planet Ecosystems (BPE) to produce seafood sustainably on-site

Roshn

Unlike Saudi’s other giga-projects, Roshn is delivering new urban communities across the kingdom. Backed by the PIF, the real estate developer is creating its communities in cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Kharj, Al Hofuf, Al Qatif, Makkah, and Abha. These feature pedestrian-friendly ‘living streets’, green spaces, and retail and entertainment outlets, as well as hospitals, medical centres, mosques, and sports facilities

Diriyah

As above, Diriyah has been confirmed as the Public Investment Fund’s fifth giga-project in Saudi Arabia. Located on the edge of Riyadh, the $50bn development is a culture and lifestyle destination providing entertainment, dining and shopping. It also includes At-Turaif, a historical district and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The site will be home to world-class cultural and educational offerings. There will be hotels, a collection of museums, and a retail area. Residents and visitors will learn about Saudi’s history at the museums. Highlights also include a period village and an arts district with galleries, restaurants and retail experiences.

Diriyah Square will be the project’s commercial heart. This will offer culture, retail, leisure and entertainment, as well as luxury hotels, and places to work and live. “Diriyah Square has crafted a collection of the finest culture, hospitality, retail, leisure and entertainment assets,” said Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA). “The project is set to become one of the world’s greatest gathering places, all in the vibrant heart of authentic Diriyah.”

Culture and lifestyle

Part of Diriyah Square will be a new Time Out Market, scheduled to open in 2027. It will have 23 kitchens, five drinks outlets, multiple stages, event and exhibition spaces, a demonstration kitchen, kitchen academy and kitchen lab.

“The team at Time Out Market share our vision – creating a vibrant dining experience for both locals and visitors alike that complements the retail, lifestyle and culture ingrained across Diriyah, and especially here at Diriyah Square,” said Inzerillo.

“Diriyah Square is set to be a landmark, combining history, heritage and culture alongside retail and hospitality – as the country is opening up to tourism and the world, there is a well-established eating out culture that continues to grow, and evolving cultural scenes which both locals and visitors are increasingly enjoying,” added Time Out Market co-CEO Jay Coldren.

Amaala

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s PIF announced plans for Amaala, a luxury development with a focus on wellness. Although the destination is not a giga-project, it is “one of the flagship Saudi Vision 2030 projects and remains central to the kingdom’s ambition to become a global tourism leader”, said Pagano. He described the project as  “one of the top global tourism destinations of the future”.  

This sustainable development will be powered by renewable energy. The project is expected to create more than 50,000 new jobs for Saudis and contribute more than $2.9bn to the country’s GDP. Located in the Prince Mohammad bin Salman Natural Reserve, Amaala will be home to more than 3,000 hotel rooms across 25 hotels. It will also boast 900 residential properties, and retail, dining and wellness facilities.

In September 2022, Amaala announced that more than 300 construction contracts worth in excess of $1.7bn have been signed to date. Amaala is due to complete in 2027. Its first phase, Triple Bay, is scheduled to finish in 2024. It includes eight resorts with more than 1,300 hotel rooms.

Luxury wellness development

Additionally, the destination will provide a luxury yacht club. “We anticipate that Amaala will become an international hub for luxury yachting, and as such, the yacht club required a world-class design, influenced by the surrounding natural elements and Arabic heritage, and underpinned by our commitment to sustainability,” Pagano said.

Amaala will also offer the first immersive and experiential marine life centre in the world, created by architectural firm Foster + Partners. The Marine Life Institute will serve as a scientific research centre and visitor destination. Located in the Triple Bay Marina, it will feature one of the world’s largest artificial reefs, futuristic laboratory spaces, educational exhibitions, and AR experiences.

Designed to resemble the Red Sea’s coral formations, the institute at Amaala will cover an area of more than 10,000 square metres. It will provide panoramic views of the Red Sea. Visitors will get to walk underwater, snorkel with rare species, take part in lab tours, and dive in a submarine.

SEVEN

As well as Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects, the country has many smaller projects – still worth billions – on the go. Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN), for example, is investing $13bn in the development of 21 entertainment destinations in 14 cities in the kingdom. Leading the effort at SEVEN is CEO and former Disney executive, Bill Ernest

SEVEN, a wholly owned subsidiary of the PIF, has secured partnerships with companies including Mattel, Hasbro and Warner Bros. Discovery. The new entertainment destinations will be located in Riyadh, Kharj, Makkah, Jeddah, Taif, Dammam, Khobar, Al Ahsa, Madinah, Yanbu, Abha, Jazan, Buraidah, and Tabuk.

Abdullah Al-Dawood, SEVEN’s chairman, said the group is “redefining the future of entertainment in Saudi Arabia”. He added: “We are partnering with leading entertainment brands and will continue to do so to develop entertainment destinations like no other. We believe that the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia is full of opportunities and plays an important role in the growth of the local economy.”

SEVEN’s new venues will include FECs, Discovery Adventures edutainment attractions, an e-karting experience under Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand, a Clip ‘n Climb climbing experience, a futuristic bowling experience, cinemas, and F&B and retail outlets

The Rig

In 2022, the PIF issued a request for proposals (RFP) from global oil and gas contractors for a $5bn ‘oil rig theme park’ called The Rig in the Persian Gulf. An offshore ‘extreme park’, Saudi Arabia’s The Rig is not a giga-project. It will cover an area of more than 150,000 square metres and will be located on repurposed oil platforms.

The Rig will offer several attractions and experiences, including extreme sports, three hotels, 11 restaurants and live entertainment. It will reportedly have a water park, theme park rides and retail spaces. “This is no theme park – it’s an extreme park, an entirely new playground of adventure,” the website says. “Take every sport that ever caught air, rode a wave or defied gravity.”

Riyadh projects

In 2019, Saudi Arabia launched four entertainment and lifestyle projects worth $23bn in Riyadh to join its giga-projects. These are King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art. King Salman Park will feature gardens, a labyrinth, and a bird and butterfly conservatory. It will also have an arts section with a theatre and an open-air theatre. There will be cinemas, museums, and a games area.

Sports Boulevard will include cycling and horse riding areas, while Green Riyadh aims to increase green spaces across the city. Riyadh Art involves installing works of art in residential and public areas, gardens, parks, and public transport facilities.

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