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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tourism project on Obhur gets royal nod

P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has given instructions to transform the Obhur Corniche into a cultural and tourist center. Spread over 140,000 square meters, the site will be developed into a permanent center for festivities. It will also include a heritage village, an open stage and a site for fireworks.

Sami Nawar, head of tourism and culture at Jeddah municipality, said the site had previously been used to stage a major exhibition of mega-projects in Makkah province and was opened by King Abdullah last year.

“This site will be converted into a permanent center for festivals,” he said. “It will be similar to the King Abdul Aziz Cultural Center in Abrug Al-Righama. The only difference is that it will be located on the sea front, north of Golden Sands beach,” he pointed out.

Nawar said the municipality had already prepared preliminary designs for the multibillion-riyal project, which was presented to Prince Miteb, minister of municipal and rural affairs, when he visited the municipality recently.

“We’ll conduct further studies before finalizing the designs,” Nawar said, adding that tenders would be called within six months from engineering offices to study the project before awarding the project to a specialized company for implementation.

He said the site would be a window to the sea and would be away from traffic. “There is a proposal to establish an open-air auditorium that can accommodate 10,000 people.” The project will also include a closed-door theater and a gallery for people to watch marine sports and activities, he said.

“This area will become a permanent place for festivities and public recreation. It will also be used to hold public awareness programs in accordance with our culture and traditions,” he said. There will be a vast expanse of greenery where people can rest. A hotel will also be constructed in the area and its revenues will be used for maintaining the center.

Nawar refused to give the estimated cost of the project. However, he said it would be huge. He said the final designs would determine the area required for the project, including parking facilities. “We’ll allocate an area beside the sea for fireworks,” he said. The project would be carried out in several phases.

The Council of Ministers has already approved plans to carry out a number of new tourism projects on the Red Sea coast. According to statistics made public by officials of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, the new projects will attract SR150 billion in investment. They further estimated annual tourist spending at new Red Sea tourist resorts to be valued at SR9.9 billion.

The Red Sea projects will be established in Ras Humaid, Sharma, Qayyal and Dhaffat Al-Wajh in Tabuk province, Arrayes in Yanbu, Ras Muhaisen in Makkah province, Haridha in Asir and Farasan in Jizan.

The resorts will have a total of 557,000 rooms and create 413,000 jobs, including 165,000 direct jobs in the first five years, SCTA officials said.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of SCTA, has spoken about a long-term plan for tourism development on the Red Sea coast and islands -- which have a total coastline of 1,800 km. He also spoke about a government strategy to increase the tourism industry’s share in the country’s gross domestic product from six to 16 percent by 2020.

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