Entertainment projects “targeting emotions through experience”

Here's a roundup of the ongoing GCC entertainment construction projects driving economic diversification plans in the region

The 334km2 Qiddiya gigaproject “will be the largest of its kind in the world in terms of entertainment and games” [image: Supplied]
The 334km2 Qiddiya gigaproject “will be the largest of its kind in the world in terms of entertainment and games” [image: Supplied]

GCC’s entertainment industry has evolved and over the last decade construction projects in this sector have seen considerable growth.

The need to diversify away from a dependance on oil-based revenues, and the resulting competitive investment in entertainment, has led GCC nations to step up their efforts to become a world-class leisure and entertainment hub through the construction of projects ranging from cinemas to theme parks and recreational destinations.

Speaking to Construction Week about entertainment projects in the region, operations director at Cundall Middle East, Lee French says: “The entertainment sector is the only sector in the built environment that targets emotions through experience and immersion above all else.”

GCC countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, are investing significantly to develop their leisure and entertainment sectors in a bid to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

In Saudi Arabia, the Public Investment Fund-backed (PIF) art, culture, and entertainment destination, the 334km2 Qiddiya is rapidly taking shape 40km from the capital city, Riyadh. Qiddiya is designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the founder of Copenhagen- and New York-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and developed by the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), which is chaired by HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

The sports, entertainment, and arts project has been divided into five development nodes, including Resort Core, City Centre, Eco Core, Motion Core, and a golf and residential neighbourhood. The gigaproject will also be home to Six Flags Qiddiya, an extension of the American theme park with six themed lands, and a speed park, comprising tracks, showrooms, retail, a driver’s club, and a luxury hotel. Phase 1 of Qiddiya, including the Six Flags-branded theme park, will open in 2023.

Qiddiya will also include a 20,000-seat cliff-top stadium, an 18,000-seat indoor arena, an aquatic centre, and a sports hub, as well as a 2,000-seat performing arts theatre and a cinema.

Referring to the Saudi Arabian government’s support for Qiddiya, the vice president of business development and international operations at US’ Six Flags, Marius Centrula said in November 2019 that the cultural, sports, and entertainment city will be the largest of its kind in the world in terms of entertainment and games. Centrula also said that the project will break world records, adding that latest technologies will be incorporated in every part of the city.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia founded Saudi Entertainment Ventures — also referred to as SEVEN — a part of the PIF dedicated to investments in the country’s entertainment sector.

Similarly in the UAE, Abu Dhabi-based developer Miral, which is behind entertainment projects including Ferrari World Abu Dhabi (FWAD), Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, is currently developing Etihad Arena — formerly Yas Bay Arena — which is a part of the developer’s $3.2bn (AED12bn) Yas Bay waterfront destination.

In January 2020, Miral’s chief executive officer Mohamed Al Zaabi announced the development of new attractions at FWAD, including an indoor rollercoaster, a 400m-long zipline experience, a Family Zone, as well as an opportunity to walk on the roof – which are scheduled to open during 2020.

Another significant entertainment project in the UAE is the Al Barakah International Investment’s upcoming 2.4km leisure and dining waterfront project Al Qana in Abu Dhabi, which is scheduled to complete by Q4 2020.

Al Qana will also feature the world’s first Cinemacity ‘CityMax’ theatre, which will open in 2020, and include Abu Dhabi’s largest 26m-wide customised premium large format (PLF) screen. The entertainment hub will house 15 screens and will seat over 2,000 people simultaneously across all theatres, including 386 people at the largest screen that will feature a dual RGB laser projector and Dolby ATMOS surround sound.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, ground will be broken on Phase 2 of The Avenues waterfront project that is being developed by a joint venture of Mabanee Bahrain, Retail International Company, and Edamah Investment in April 2020. The project is spread across an area covering 115,000m2 and is valued at $147.2m (BHD55.5m).

The company is also planning to begin construction work on The Avenues Sharjah in the end of 2020.

Under the umbrella of entertainment projects is the construction of cinemas, which has been remarkable in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in 2018. With the opening of cinema projects the kingdom’s economic diversification plans that come in line with its Vision 2030 got a significant boost.

American movie theatre chain, AMC Theatres, opened the first cinema in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, marking the first project under cinema construction in the kingdom.

Speaking about Cundall’s involvement in entertainment projects, without revealing further details due to confidentiality reasons, French tells Construction Week: “We are currently working for various cinema chains throughout KSA and the wider GCC. We are also working on some major theme park schemes [that are] yet to hit the public domain.”

“[We] worked on cinemas and theatres from Europe to Australia and various theme and amusement parks and attractions closer to home in the GCC,” he adds.

According to the Cinema Build KSA report, investments related to cinemas in the kingdom are estimated to be valued at $1.3bn (SAR5bn) in 2020. The investment includes development of a total of 140 cinema screens in 30 malls across the country that will simultaneously create more than 5,314 jobs.

A research prepared by The Great Minds Group, a partner of Cinema Build KSA 2020, revealed that the Saudi Arabia cinema industry will witness enormous growth and is set to become the leader in the region.

However, the construction of cinemas just like other projects in the built environment is a challenging task. The main challenge concerning the design and engineering of cinemas is “the real estate”, according to Cundall’s technical director, Tony Owens.

Owens tells Construction Week: “Creating new buildings takes too long, so operators are targeting existing shopping mall space. These malls were not designed to accommodate cinemas, so a certain level of structural enhancement is required for the proposed tenant spaces.

“There may also be issues with the utility capacities available for the operator and upgrades may not be possible or they may take time to achieve,” Owens stresses, adding that operators’ willingness to be flexible in adopting the requirements of local market can help overcome such challenges.

In February 2020, Nasdaq Dubai-listed interior solutions firm Depa told Construction Week that it won fit-out and MEP works contract for five cinema projects, comprising 39 screens in Saudi Arabia from the kingdom’s first homegrown cinema brand Muvi Cinemas. The project will be designed by London-headquartered architects and masterplanners Chapman Taylor, and will be managed by Dubai-based Compass Project Consulting, who have already managed 22 other screens for Muvi Cinemas and Vox in the UAE and KSA.

With entertainment projects continuing their role in taking GCC countries to the next level within the construction industry, it is important that these projects are “designed and managed by those who understand the complexities of an entertainment project and the market,” French concludes.

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