RIYADH: The company behind Qiddiya, the entertainment city being built on the outskirts of Riyadh, has revealed more details of the venues and facilities that are due to open when phase one of the project is completed in four years’ time.
In all, more than 45 individual projects are expected to be complete and 300 activities available in the creative, hospitality, leisure and sports sectors when the first phase opens to the public in 2023. They include a theme park, a water park, a motorsports center, and sports and performing-arts venues.
In an interview, Qiddiya Investment Company CEO Mike Reininger on Wednesday talked to Arab News about what makes the project so special and why it will attract visitors from around the world.
“There are so many things that are special in Qiddiya,” he said. “Firstly, the unbelievable site: The beautiful piece of national park-quality land on the edge of Riyadh. It is the starting point for a series of special experiences, whether they are in entertainment, sports or the arts, as we bring this together with an authenticity and a connection to the local community and culture.
“The idea behind Qiddiya is simple, yet powerful: To create a place that unlocks the opportunities and virtues that entertainment, sports and the arts can contribute to a healthy, happy and engaging lifestyle. It’s an idea that resonates with the Kingdom’s young and smart and progressive population, who share the universal desire for these opportunities and experiences. That is the idea, which fully aligns with the Kingdom’s vision 2030.”
More than 20 architectural companies have been contracted to work on the project, a team of more than 500 professionals from 30 countries assembled in conjunction with Danish architecture and building company Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which is constructing tower blocks and arts, cultural and sports facilities.
During a press conference on Wednesday at the site of the project, Reininger and Andreas Pedersen from BIG discussed the aims of the Qiddiya project and the first features that will be implemented.
One of the main aims, they said, was to create a hub to generate job opportunities through the provision of entertainment, sports and arts facilities. According to Reininger, Qiddiya aims to create at least 17,000 new employment opportunities.
“Today we are 200 and we have to have 17,000 people in order to make Qiddiya come to life,” he said. “There are 17,000 brand new job opportunities in areas and industries that Saudis haven’t had access to before.
We recently opened a large-scale training development program that’s focused on building a Saudi-oriented workforce to take all of those jobs and give this place a Saudi face.”
To help achieve this, Qiddiya is partnering with the University of Central Florida, which has the largest hospitality and sports-management education system in the world by numbers, Reininger said.
“We put this program together where we have 60 scholarships for Saudi students to send them to university to obtain the specific education that they need, so that when they come back we will give them jobs and they will have the information and the knowledge they need to be able to enter these new fields that are opening up in the Kingdom,” he added.
About 3,000 students applied for 60 scholarships within 48 hours of the announcement of the program two weeks ago, Reininger revealed.
“That instant response is a good indicator that jobs in these industries are appealing to Saudis, just as these experiences are interesting,” he said. “That’s why we say it has this duality: On the one hand, we are creating these experiences that are fun for people to enjoy in their lives, but at the same time in order to create these experiences we have to create these jobs and we have to stimulate the economy that provides the industrial support that makes this stuff happen.”
The grand opening of the first phase of Qiddiya is scheduled for 2023, when most of the initial projects are expected to be complete. These include: A Six Flags theme park; a water park; a motorsports-themed “Speed Park,” including racetracks; a number of residential areas; the city center; a performing arts center; and most of the sports venues and retail centers.
“We are not going to incrementally open one thing and then wait and open another,” said Reininger. “The expectations that have been built up around this project are so large and we don’t want to disappoint anybody by delivering something in the first phase that is not big enough to match the image they have about how it will be.
“We are working really hard to accomplish everything so that when we cut the ribbon on that grand opening day in 2023, most of what you see here will be available.”
In addition, several hotels will be ready to welcome visitors on opening day.
“In the first phase we will have about five hotels of various kinds, sizes and price points across the spectrum,” added Reininger.