Skip to content Skip to Search
Skip navigation

Locals bemused by Jeddah’s planned transformation

Jeddah Economic Company CEO Mounib Hammoud, shows a model of Jeddah Tower. Reuters
Jeddah Economic Company CEO Mounib Hammoud, shows a model of Jeddah Tower. Construction drew to a halt when its developers fell out of favour.
  • Six districts planned in Vision 2030
  • Jeddah Tower may be completed
  • Some residents unconvinced

Amid a vast area of empty land in north Jeddah’s Obhur district, a lone unfinished tower stands out on the horizon with motionless yellow cranes around its edges – a stalled sign of the transformation of Saudi Arabia’s second city. 

Now work on the tower – possibly the tallest in the world upon completion – appears set to restart. This follows a six-year hiatus when its leading contractors, Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Binladin Group, collectively known as Jeddah Economic Company, fell out of favour. 

“Jeddah Economic Company said they would have a meeting this month to decide and then start work in the early new year,” said an onsite representative of Saudi Binladin Group which, he added, is still in the running to win some of the construction contracts. 

“It could be called Jeddah Tower or it could be Kingdom Tower – they still don’t know,” he said. 

Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia’s second city is undergoing a major transformation as Vision 2030 giga-projects change the face of many districts, including Marafy and Alarous by Roshn, Sadayem by the National Housing Project, and – controversially – Jeddah Central. 

Wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund, Jeddah Central aims to give southern Jeddah a complete makeover. Six districts are planned, and intended to feature luxury tourism and housing, a sports stadium, a man-made canal, an oceanarium and coral farm, a marina, a museum and even an opera house. 

Tracts of land in low-income southern neighbourhoods have been flattened to make way for the secretive project, which will lie adjacent to the old quarter of Jeddah known as Al-Balad, famous for its famed latticed wood-work windows and balconies known as roshan. 

Flat land in Jeddah residential districtAndrew Hammond
Districts in Jeddah have been flattened to allow for construction

The company declined to respond to requests for comment during a visit to its offices in a building in the Salamah district.

A Saudi citizen who runs a clothes shop in the Rawabi district was reluctant to criticise the demolition plans, which have left his building standing.

“They want to do development,” he said, pointing to cleared land where only a few palm trees were left standing. 

‘Just publicity talk’

Many Jeddans, however, are in disbelief about the plans.

“An opera house? This is just publicity talk, it won’t happen,” said a security guard controlling access to the Marina district being developed on the seafront, where the opera is likely to be located. 

A nearby billboard by an entity called the National Programme for Communal Development in the Regions declares to locals that property ownership in the entire district is being shifted, though it does not say to whom. 

Two museums are planned – a renovation of the old Bab Al-Bunt Museum by Jeddah port, to be known as the Red Sea Museum and housing works of art; and Jeddah Central Museum, inside an old desalination plant, intended as an industrial heritage site. 

There have been rumours in the art world that one of them could house Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which Saudi Arabia is believed to have bought at a Christie’s auction in 2017. Another possible location is the Wadi AlFann museum being developed in Alula. 

Jeddah Tower constructionAndrew Hammond
Reports suggest Jeddah Tower may finally be completed but uncertainty remains

The arts spending extends to cinema. Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival has taken over as the leading Gulf cinematic event after the demise of the Dubai International Film Festival amid spiralling costs. 

With a population of more than 5 million, Jeddah was always Saudi Arabia’s most easy-going city as a stopping point for pilgrims coming to Mecca. 

Millions of non-religious tourists are now visiting the country since the religious police were stripped of their powers of arrest in 2016 and e-visas began in 2019. 

“When I was 12, if they found you outside the mosque during prayer time they would take you away and shave your hair as punishment,” said a 25-year-old Saudi government employee. “They didn’t follow rules.”

Not everyone is happy with Jeddah’s transformation. The city suffers from chronic traffic problems, with no plans for a public metro system. Riyadh’s new metro, on the other hand, is due to open next year. 

Walid is a dentist who has been unable to find work for a decent wage since he left the profession during the pandemic to take care of an ailing family member. Now he can make more money as an Uber driver. 

The introduction in 2020 of 15 percent value added tax has put pressure on ordinary people’s finances, he said.

“They should do something for the people here,” Walid added. “They are taxing us now but all our money is going to these projects, which are just for show.”

Latest articles

More than 24 million people visited the World Expo event at Expo City Dubai between October 2021 and March 2022

Construction begins at Expo City Dubai site

Construction has begun on the first residential properties at Expo City Dubai, part of a mixed-use master plan to repurpose the legacy site after the world fair came to a close two years ago. Master developer Expo City Dubai announced last week that it has awarded four key contracts for its Mangrove Residences. UAE-based USF […]

Saudi housing costs rose nearly 9% year on year in May

Saudi housing costs rise but inflation remains steady

Housing costs in Saudi Arabia rose nearly 9 percent year on year in May, but it was not enough to push overall inflation in the kingdom over 2 percent. The latest data from the General Authority for Statistics showed the annual inflation rate in Saudi Arabia was 1.6 percent in May, having remained at this […]

OTB Group has a presence in Dubai with its Maison Margiela store in the Dubai Mall

Chalhoub Group in venture with Italian luxury brand

Luxury distributor Chalhoub Group has entered into a joint venture with Italian fashion conglomerate OTB Group to expand the brand’s footprint in the Gulf. OTB (which stands for Only The Brave) owns the Diesel, Jil Sander, Maison Margiela, Marni and Viktor&Rolf brands, the Staff International and Brave Kid companies, and holds a stake in the […]

Arid conditions brought about by the drought in Morocco are affecting the cost of sheep

Drought pushes up sheep price for Eid in Morocco

The price for a sheep in Morocco for the annual sacrifice at Eid al-Adha has increased on average at 10 times the 2.2 percent rate of inflation. A medium-sized female sheep costs MAD4000 ($400) as opposed to MAD3000 last year. This puts it out of range for many families in the country where a high […]