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Diriyah giga-project promises Beverly Hills in Riyadh

Shoppers in Beverly Hills. Development head Jerry Inzerillo plans to create Riyadh's own version of the high-end district in Diriyah Pexels/David Vives
Shoppers in Beverly Hills. Development head Jerry Inzerillo plans to create Riyadh's own version of the high-end district in Diriyah
  • Exclusive district in Diriyah
  • Cultural and pedestrian-friendly
  • Ready for Expo 2030

Saudi Arabia plans to make its Diriyah heritage district the “Beverly Hills of Riyadh” by 2028 in time for the World Expo 2030 to be held in the city, the giga-project’s CEO said this week. 

Jerry Inzerillo, head of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, said these plans include the construction of a 1.9km road like the Champs Élysées – to be called King Salman Boulevard – that will have an Arc de Triomphe-style monument at both ends, connecting the At-Turaif historical district to King Saud University.

The road will be lined with major buildings including an opera house, museum and sports arena. 

“We will have not one Arc de Triomphe but two – on both ends,” said Inzerillo, a New York hotelier chosen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to head the authority in 2017. 

“We’ll have our Louvre, which is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Contemporary Art Museum. We’ll have our Sydney Opera House designed by Snøhetta out of Oslo.”

He was speaking after the launch on December 11 of a luxury golf and equestrian resort west of Riyadh at Wadi Safar, where homes will be pitched to the world’s ultra-rich elites. 

“We’re going to be putting a small number of units, 40 to 50, in our Wadi Safar development, which is ultra-high-net-worth families and individuals,” Inzerillo said. “We also have a waiting list on that. The minimum entry will be about $25 million per unit.” 

Historic district

Diriyah was designated this year as one of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects, owned by the Public Investment Authority. The projects are central to mammoth development plans to diversify the economy; attract foreign investment, including tourism; and create jobs for a burgeoning youth population. 

The district on the western edge of Riyadh was the capital of an Arabian empire established by the Saudi dynasty in the 18th century. It is now central to government plans to develop the Saudi capital into a global city of 15 million people – before Saudi Arabia hosts the World Expo in 2030. Wadi Safar will be its most exclusive quarter. 

“Diriyah will be a cultural, pedestrian-friendly heritage Beverly Hills in a metropolis like Los Angeles, so as Riyadh spreads to become a G20 metropolis of 15 million people, Diriyah is Beverly Hills but Wadi Safar is Bel Air – very, very high net worth,” Inzerillo said. 

He was speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony announcing the first batch of 42 hotels opening in Diriyah. The first hotel, the Bab Samhan Heritage Hotel, is due to open in January. 

The entire district uses the traditional stone and mud-brick architecture of the Najd region in central Arabia. Buildings that remain standing from when the town was settled are being restored. 

At one end of the boulevard, the Turaif quarter has already been developed with restaurants and 106 villas are under construction, ranging from SAR9 to 26 million each in price. 

Inzerillo said demand was such that when 75 percent of them sold within hours the rest were held back to give VIPs a chance to make offers. The residential district is being managed by Ritz Carlton. 

Officials say the districts around King Salman Boulevard will be aimed at ordinary people and are set to begin construction and open to sales in 2025.

Five hundred tech companies and more than 100 media and entertainment businesses are also planned as part of what Inzerillo called a Silicon Valley inside Diriyah, which covers 14 square km. 

Boundless energy

Inzerillo, whose diminutive stature belies seemingly boundless energy, has come a long way since starting out as a busboy at the age of 13 in New York. He worked his way up in the hospitality industry to become president and CEO of IMG Artists, a celebrity management and events company, in 2012 and CEO of Forbes Travel Guide in 2014. 

With this long experience and network in the tourism and entertainment industries, Inzerillo attracted the eye of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to be in regular contact, to head the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. 

“The one thing that’s super unique about Diriyah is it has been master-planned to be very walkable,” Inzerillo said. 

“The crown prince didn’t see Diriyah in the kinetic energy of Cairo or Rome. What he saw is a walkable Florence, Marrakech or Fez. He feels very strongly about getting people outside, so that’s why we have so many parks. We want people to walk or bike to work, pray, live, recreate.” 

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