NO scheme has done more to improve the otherwise dour image of Kuwait City than the waterfront project. First conceived in the late 1970s, the project to transform a long stretch of the Kuwaiti coastline into a playground for the people is one of the largest and longest-running construction schemes in Kuwait. Today, a third phase of the scheme is under construction and contracts for phases four and five are soon to be awarded by the municipality.

The first two phases, which were completed in 1985, involved the development of a 26-kilometre stretch of sea front with shops, recreational areas, playgrounds, beaches and the landmark Kuwaiti water towers. The masterplan for the waterfront was drawn up by Kuwait Engineer’s Office in association with Ghazi Sultan and Sasaki Associates.

The government dropped the waterfront scheme from its list of priorities in the early 1990s as it confronted the costs of reconstructing the war- torn country after the Iraqi occupation. Tight oil prices were a further constraint on the government’s financial muscle and ensured that – apart from the new Emiri Diwan – funding was only available for the most urgent projects.

The absence of any state funding obliged the municipality to adopt a build-operate-transfer (BOT) approach to financing the scheme. In September 1994, National Real Estate Company (NREC) was awarded the BOT contract to develop phase three, the Al-Sharq waterfront, which runs some 2.4 kilometres between the Sief palace and the Kuwait towers.

NREC is investing KD 35 million in the project over 25 years, when the area will be handed back to the municipality. The company is building shops, restaurants, a marina, cinema, theatre and a new fish market on the site. The UK retailers Marks & Spencer are expected to open a shop in the complex, their first outlet in Kuwait, under a franchise deal. NREC is looking to take about KD 0.5 million a month in rental income from the retail outlets in the development. The complex is due to be opened in February next year.

Construction work on phase three has been divided into 16 packages. The local Consolidated Contractors Company (Conco) has almost completed its KD 5.4 million contract to build the marina. The local Ahmadia Contracting & Trading Company has secured three contracts on the project totalling KD 13.3 million. The company will be responsible for civil and infrastructure works and all external finishes.

Contractors and consultants are now waiting patiently for the municipality to award contracts for phases four and five of the waterfront. Bids for both schemes were submitted to the municipality late last year. The two projects involve revitalising a further 5.5 kilometres of the waterfront. Phase four combines entertainment and recreation facilities, commercial buildings and housing projects. Phase five combines commercial and recreational facilities and government offices. Both will be completed on a BOT basis.