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Deals Abound in the Tony Beirut Central District

Apr 10

Deals Abound in the Tony Beirut Central District

The historic heart and financial and geographical center of Beirut, Beirut Central District, also known as the downtown area, has been reconstructed after it was devastated by the Lebanese civil war that ended in 1990, with pristine streets lined with outdoor cafes and high-end boutiques, giving it an old-meets-new aesthetic.

Boundaries

The district lies in the middle of Beirut’s northern coastline facing the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by the roads Fakhreddine to the west, General Foaad Chehab to the south and George Haddad to the east.

The northern section, which used to face the sea, extends into an undeveloped peninsula created from reclaimed land that is set to be developed into a leisure, commercial and residential district by Solidere, the government-created company in charge of planning and rebuilding the district.

Price range

There is no official source for house price data in Lebanon, according to Raja Makarem of the Beirut-based estate agency Ramco, who said that his company has the most comprehensive records on prices in Beirut.

A two-bedroom apartment would roughly cost about US$1.2 million and a four-bedroom apartment would have a price tag of USD$2.2 million, Mr. Makarem said.

(Real estate prices are often quoted in U.S. dollars. The Lebanese pound has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1999 and both currencies can be used in the country.)

He added that the average price per square meter on the first floor is US$5,500 and first-floor homes at the top end of the market cost US$8,000 per square meter.

Samuel Freiha of the Beirut real estate consultancy and brokerage PBM gave a smaller range of prices for the area of between US$6,500 per square meter and US$7,000 per square meter.

It’s worth mentioning that the prices quoted above are after negotiation, since it is common for buyers to pay below the offer price. Homes typically sell for between 10% and 30% below their offer price, Mr. Freiha said.

Top addresses include Wadi Abou Jamil, which is close to the Grand Serail—also known as the government palace—the official residence of the Lebanese prime minister.

Plus, Wafik Sinn, a sea-facing street with high-rise residential blocks overlooks the Zaitunay Bay development, which features Beirut Marina, upper and lower promenades, restaurants and cafes.

Housing stock

Devastated during the Lebanese 15-year civil war in the 1970s and ’80s, the district, which is thousands of years old and contains historical sites, has been rebuilt to a masterplan by Solidere.

The area has a few houses and, like most modern downtown areas, large numbers of high-rise apartment blocks, with the earliest dating to the late 1990s, Mr. Makarem said.

Though construction rates have slowed in recent years, the downtown area has attracted some of the biggest names in architecture. There’s Beirut Terraces, a high-rise development that opened in 2009 and designed by Herzog & de Meuron, which has a staggered floor structure with plant-covered terraces, and 3Beirut, a Foster + Partners-designed development comprising three limestone-clad towers with large decked terraces and a McLaren car showroom at its base.

The Damac Tower, meanwhile, is a 28-story tower that opened in 2017 by the Dubai-based luxury real estate developer Damac Properties with 183 apartments with interiors designed by Versace Home, showcasing its trademark opulent Italian style.

What makes it unique

Offering great infrastructure and public spaces, and high-speed internet, along with a good security presence, the district is the best urban setting in Lebanon, Mr. Makarem said.

Key to its appeal is its central location, historic-style architecture and proximity to the beaches, Mr. Freiha said. He also noted that its road network is better designed and maintained than other areas of the city.

Luxury amenities

The downtown area is made for high-end shoppers. Al Lenbi, or Allenby Street, has boutiques by Louis Vuitton and Cartier, and Foch Street has boutiques by Tod’s, Diesel, LE66 Champs Elysees Concept Store and Vivienne Westwood.

South Souk, part of the Beirut Souks, is a shopping and dining mall home to 200 shops, with mid-priced offerings including Gap, Zara and Tommy Hilfiger and boutiques by Jimmy Choo, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.

And there’s more to come. The North Souk, a new five-story department store designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, is the second phase of the Solidere development.

The area, which has the largest retail district in Beirut, has seen many shop closures in recent years due to security cordons on Nijmeh Square, which is home to the Lebanese parliament, according to a recent report by Ramco.

The cordons in January were removed in January and there have been signs of improvement, Mr. Freiha said. “More tourists coming to the area, footfall has increased, and more stores are being let,” he said.

Upscale French bistros are plentiful in the area. There’s Balthus, which has art deco-inspired features, Society Bistro and Cocteau, which offers fine dining, while Café Metropole, a brasserie, and Petite Maison, a fine dining restaurant in a period setting, offer dishes inspired by French cooking. Kampai, meanwhile, is a well-regarded modern Japanese restaurant.

Cocktails, entertainment, live music and stylish surroundings can be found at MusicHall, a cabaret-style theater with eclectic stage performances. There’s also a nightclub called Sky Bar.

Five-star hotel brand Four Seasons has an outpost here and InterContinental has the Phoenicia, a historic five-star hotel situated on the edge of the district, near the Corniche, the city’s seaside promenade.

While there are no international schools in the downtown area, there are a few in close proximity. The American Community School, situated in the neighboring district of Ras Beirut, is a private independent co-ed school catering for student aged 3 to 18, and the Grand Lycee Franco-Libanais, positioned two miles away in Mathaf, offers an education for students in grades 1 to 15.
Who lives there

High-net-worth individuals from Lebanon, billionaires from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Lebanese expats are among those who live in the district, according to Mr. Makarem.

The majority of buyers are wealthy Lebanese residents. In previous years there were more buyers from Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, according to Mr. Makarem.

Notable residents

Lebanon’s political and business elite favor this area. As previously mentioned, the Grand Serail is the official residence of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri.

Among those who own homes in the area are Nabib Mikati, the co-founder of Beirut-based investment firm M1 Group and a former politician who served twice as the prime minister of Lebanon, and Mohammad Safadi, a Lebanese businessman and politician.

Other notable residents include Carlos Ghosn, a chairman and CEO of auto company Renault, and Said Khoury, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

It is also where the Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab has his main workshop.

Outlook

The property market in Beirut has been going through a prolonged phase of slowdown, which began after the financial crisis of 2008 and has continued with political deadlock in Lebanon and the spillover effect of the Syrian conflict, according to Mr. Makarem.

The downbeat mood increased last month when the Central Bank of Lebanon put a hold on its subsidized loan program. Mr. Makarem said that the district should not be affected by the amendments since most buyers are cash rich, although he added that “the change in the Central Bank’s policy may put a dampener on the real estate market as a whole.”

Mr. Freiha said that the residential property market has struggled over the past two years, with prices falling 30%. He said that his company believes that the tough conditions will continue throughout 2018 and that the market is only likely to improve once the war in Syria has ended and the rebuilding of the country has started. However, he added that Lebanon’s long-delayed national elections next month should bring some stability to the market.

Mr. Makarem agreed, noting that “the results of these elections and the effect they will have on the political stalemate that has kept the country from moving forward during the past decade or so may provide better visibility for the future and a positive outlook for the economy—which will both have a positive impact on the real estate market and on buyer and investor confidence.”

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