A group of local and Arab investors has bought a 53,000-square-metre plot of land in the Zeytouneh district of central Beirut with plans to build a $140 million high-rise residential and commercial complex on the site, Solidere announced on 7 March. The $50 million purchase is the second major plot that Solidere has sold in downtown Beirut since the beginning of the year. In February, Kuwait-based Gulfinvest International announced that it had paid $38 million for another plot on which it was planning to build a $70 million residential building.

‘There is a real hope that things are improving, and there is a strong likelihood that the sector will boom again. Interest is especially high over the blocks in the Beirut central district,’ says one local engineer. The construction sector is one of the few areas of the Lebanese economy that appear to be defying recession, boosted by an influx of money from abroad. ‘We are talking about large amounts of money for some of these properties – about $4,000 per square metre in the central district – which most locals simply cannot afford. So I imagine it is targeted at either Lebanese living abroad, or GCC nationals.’

After a tough year in 2000, when it posted a loss of $32 million, Solidere has sold $121 million-worth of property in the last four months and is expected to post a healthy profit for last year. The additional revenue has persuaded the company to resume work on its most ambitious scheme, the 100,000-square-metre Beirut souks project. The $100 million shopping mall, which is intended to be the centrepiece of the renovated downtown area, has been held up for more than two years over government delays in issuing construction permits. Work is expected to resume in mid 2002, a company official says.