JORDAN: Hard Rock hits market on a roll

28 March 1997

PER capita income in Jordan is no more than $1,200 a year, but a growing number of investors are banking on a surge in spending power over the next few years. Some $60 million is now going into retail and recreational developments in several districts of Amman, and two of them will breathe new life into areas that missed out on the real estate boom of the early 1990s.

One of the most advanced projects will transform Amman's old wholesale vegetable market in the Wahdat area into the $5 million Al-Tayabat Shopping Village. The development will boast more than 300 shops, restaurants, fast food outlets, handicraft workshops and playgrounds. Al-Tayabat is the first major development in Amman that is targeting a broad spectrum of customers, from the working and lower middle-class population of the area to the prosperous middle class residents of western Amman - just a 10-minute drive away - as well as tourists.

Entertainment appeal

Project manager Mouayyad Dabbas says entertainment, ranging from on-site craftsmen to traditional festivals, will be a major feature of the project. Al-Tayabat is also noteworthy as the first substantial urban renewal project in Amman to be undertaken entirely by private investors. Dabbas says other owners in the Wahdat area are already planning to upgrade their properties and land values have been rising.

A second development aimed at a socially and economically diverse clientele is the $12 million City Center project in the Second Circle area of Jabal Amman. The multi-storey development by Specialists Investments Jordanian Company (SIJC) will include a 3000-square-metre supermarket, one of the largest in the city, shopping arcades, offices, hotel suites and playing areas. SIJC General Manager Sami Barakat says the company wants to pull in a cross-section of Amman society at the new centre. 'We need a shopping centre that is easily accessible for shoppers without transport and that will also serve Amman's western suburbs,' he says.

Barakat is well aware that average spending power is low but says the centre will mix exclusive shops with popular attractions. 'People like to go where other people go,' he says. 'We will have affordable items and customers can go to the supermarket for basic purchases, use the playgrounds and enjoy the crowds at the same time.'

Barakat is also confident that the project will help lead to the regeneration of a neighbourhood that used to be the elite area of Amman until its eclipse in the early 1980s. Since then, the area has stagnated, but new projects, which also include the new Amman Hyatt hotel and a $20 million expansion and upgrading programme for the nearby Jordan Intercontinental Hotel, are helping to breathe new life into the area. 'We also want to help Jabal Amman take back its old role,' says Barakat.

Azzam Masri, general manager of Jordanian Investments & Supply Company, owners of the Safeway supermarket in Amman, is well aware of the potential for a retail outlet to offer a form of entertainment. The existing Safeway supermarket pulls in 13,000-15,000 shoppers at week-ends; about three times as many visitors simply come to browse at an outlet that is animated by piped music, video screens, raffles and special offers. 'Our turnover is high by international standards' says Masri, 'because Safeway is an entertainment centre too.'

The company has now started construction of a second, $11.5 million outlet and is planning two smaller supermarkets in Amman's eastern suburbs within the next two-three years. The new Safeway will combine elements from US, Japanese and German supermarket styles in its design, which is by the local architectural firm, MEMAR. An NCR Dyna Key computer system will manage stocktaking and check-out procedures and will also offer home shopping facilities and a range of in-store entertainment features. The new supermarket will also include a food gallery with a choice of local and international fast food outlets.

The latest arrival in the shopping and entertainment market is the local Century Investment Group which plans a $20 million shopping mall in joint venture with Shamrock of the US. The mall is due to open in January 1999 and is intended to house an international name department store, Shamrock's own Green Acres supermarket, international name fast food outlets and Jordan's first multiplex cinema.

Not all the new projects share the populist slant of Al-Tayabat and the City Center, however. The Amman Development and Investment Company is spending $14 million on a spacious and exclusive recreation centre with capacity for about 1,500 families. The Dunes Club is just one of a series planned for the region by the Lebanon-based Middle East Invest Holding. The 12,000 square-metre built-up area of the development will offer a range of swimming pools, sports facilities, restaurants, bars, a business centre, meeting rooms and a multi-function ballroom, all set in 60,000 square metres of landscaped gardens. Design is by leading Jordanian architect Jaafar Toukan and partners, interior design is by Hasbani & Harb and landscaping by Djurivic, both of Lebanon. The UK's International Club Services is acting as consultant.

On a much smaller scale, but indicative of the steady flow of investment into the construction of new amenities, are Amman's growing numbers of restaurants, great and small. The most eagerly-awaited is the Hard Rock Cafe Amman which is due for completion by July. The striking building is a one-off design and will cost between $2-3 million. General manager Firas Khushman says the building will combine the traditional Hard Rock Cafe rock and roll themes with a strong reference to Jordan's major tourist treasure of Petra. The local Al-Tabba Contracting Company has the construction contract which includes a 16,000-17,000 square-metre building on three floors with dining areas for 350 people, a merchandise outlet and a function room.

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